By Arsh Singh, Army Institute of Law, Mohali.
A Quasi Judicial Body is an entity such as an arbitrator or a tribunal, generally of a Public Administrative Agency, which has powers and procedures resembling that of a Court of Law or Judge, and which is obliged to objectively determine facts and draw conclusions from them so as to provide the basis of an official action. Such actions are able to remedy a situation or to impose legal penalties, and may affect the legal rights, duties or privileges of specific parties.
A Quasi Judicial Body has also been defined as “an organ of Government other than a Court or Legislature, which affects the rights of private parties either through adjudication or rulemaking”. It is not mandatory that a Quasi Judicial Body has to necessarily be an organisation resembling a Court of Law, such as the Motor Vehicle Tribunal. For example, the Election Commission of India is also a Quasi Judicial Body but does not have its core functions as a Court of Law. Some examples of Quasi Judicial Bodies in India are as follows:-
- Election Commission of India.
- Income Tax Appellate Tribunal.
- Intellectual Property Appellate Tribunal.
- Telecom Dispute Settlement and Tribunal.
Some of the Quasi Judicial Bodies in the world are as follows:-
- United States Merit Protection Board.
- International Narcotics Control Board.
- Sheriff’s Principle in Scotland.
- Canadian International Trade Tribunal.
Reasons for Emergence of Quasi Judicial Bodies in India
- As the State grew in size and functions, the burden on its functions, especially those of the judicial system increased manifold. Therefore, the need for an alternative judicial system arose.
- The cost factor also played an important role because ordinary judicial procedures can turn out to be a costly affair if stretched over a long period of time.
- The complexity of a plethora of laws called for more technical minds in specific fields.
Evolution of Tribunals in India
Article 323A of the Constitution, empowers Parliament to provide by law, of Administrative Tribunals, for the adjudication or trial of disputes and complaints, with respect to recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to Public Services and posts in connection with affairs of the Union of States. It also provides for the establishment of an Administrative Tribunal for the Union and separate Administrative Tribunals for the states. Such bodies therefore, are authorised to take away the adjudication of disputes relating to service matters from the Civil Courts and the High Courts.
The Parliament also enacted The Administrative Tribunals Act in 1985 to establish an Administrative Tribunal for the Union. In the case of Sampath Kumar vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court directed to carry out certain measures to ensure the functioning of the Administrative Tribunals along constitutionally sound principles. These changes were majorly brought in by amending the 1985 Act, which were accepted by the Judiciary with open arms. Later, certain other amendments were also passed by the Parliament and thus the Administrative Tribunals became an efficient substitute for High Courts under certain specific instances.
Categories of Quasi Judicial Bodies
There are four types of Quasi Judicial Bodies:-
- Administrative bodies exercising quasi judicial functions, whether as part and parcel of their respective departments or otherwise.
- Administrative adjudicatory bodies which are outside the control of the department involved in the disputes and hence decide disputes like a Judge, free from bias. For example: The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal falls under the Ministry Of Law and not the Ministry Of Finance.
- Departmental bodies exercising inherent judicial powers of the State, wherein they perform functions pertaining to control, composition and procedure, constituted under Article 136, can also be classified as tribunals.
- Tribunals constituted under Article 323A and 323B of the Indian Constitution, enjoy the powers and status of a High Court.
To fully understand the overall functioning and working of Quasi Judicial Bodies let’s look at two of the most effective Tribunals in our country.
Alternate Dispute Resolution system has been an integral part of our nation. Lok Adalats are based on a system which originated in the ancient times and continues even today in the form of Gram Panchayats.
It can settle disputes between parties in respect of:-
- Any case pending before; or
- Any matter which is falling under the jurisdiction of, and is not brought before, any Court for which the Lok Adalat is organised.
- The Lok Adalat can settle disputes and help arrive at terms of compromise even in criminal cases which are compoundable under the relevant laws.
The powers of Lok Adalat, while trying a suit are given under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 with respect to the following matters:-
- Power to summon and enforce the attendance of any witness and to examine him/her under oath.
- Powers to enforce the discovery and production of any document
- Powers to receive evidence on affidavits
- Power for requisitioning of any public record or document or copy thereof, from any court.
- Every Lok Adalat shall have the power to specify its own procedure for the determination of any dispute coming before it.
Lok Adalats have the power to solve criminal cases under the provisions of The Indian Penal Code, 1860.
CONSUMER PROTECTION FORUM
Many of the powers of the Tribunals for consumer protection are similar to those of Lok Adalats. They can call for affidavits or other legal papers of Court or any place as and when required. They resolve matters under the provisions of The Consumer Protection Act, 1986. This Act makes the Latin maxim caveat emptor (buyer beware) a thing of the past. It provides for a three tier system for disposal of cases and the criteria under which one can approach them are as follows:-
The District Commission: Lowest level body which can be approached when a consumer incurs losses amounting up to 20 lakhs.
The State Commission: Mid level body which can be approached when a consumer incurs losses ranging from 20 lakhs to 1 crore.
The National Commission: The highest forum which can be approached when a consumer incurs losses amounting for more than 1 crore.
Advantages of Quasi Judicial Bodies
- Low Cost: In the conventional judicial process, a large section of the populace for the fear of expenditure, may hesitate from approaching the Courts, thus defeating the purpose of justice. Tribunals on the other hand, have an overall low cost which encourages people to seek redressal for their grievances.
- Simplicity: Tribunals and other such bodies do not follow any lengthy or complex procedure for submitting application or evidence etc.
- Expert Knowledge: A tribunal comprises of experts, who can easily understand the technicalities of a case, the necessary actions involved and their consequences.
- Reduction of Workload: Tribunals while taking up specific matters, majorly help by sharing the massive workload of the Judiciary. In a country which has 2.81 crore pending cases, it is important to take steps to decrease the burden of the Judiciary.
Disadvantages of Quasi Judicial Bodies
- The unfair imbalance between represented and unrepresented parties as the richer parties have a better chance at representation when compared to the ones with limited resources at their disposal.
- While lower costs of Tribunals encourage people to fight for justice, they also invite a lot of ill founded claims.
- Many a times the decision given by a Tribunal is challenged in a High Court by the losing party. This inevitably puts the burden on the Judiciary, which defies the purpose of Tribunals.
Though the concept and working of Tribunals and Quasi Judicial Bodies is still new to our country, they mostly remain understaffed and burdened with the ever increasing number of cases, because of which they find it difficult to perform their functions smoothly. The backbone of the problem lies in the fact that with half the manpower of the Judiciary, these bodies are expected to perform an almost equal amount of work. Despite such odds, Quasi Judicial Bodies are a great help to the nation and have substantially decreased the burden of the Judiciary.
Therefore, the Government needs to address this issue by enabling sufficient number of appointments at various Quasi Judicial Bodies. However, as a foolproof appointment mechanism plays a crucial role in ensuring quality, the Government is duty bound to provide for the same. Only then can India’s Quasi Judicial Bodies expedite not only the resolution of disputes but also dispensation of justice.