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Justice on Duty: A Closer Look at the Armed Forces Tribunal

ABSTRACT

This blog will explore the concept of the Armed Forces Tribunal, i.e., the justice system for armed personnel in India. It will hunt through the role and significance of tribunals and, in ensuring accountability, equality, and fairness, scrutinize the important case laws and their impressions or impacts on army personnel. By understanding the powers, jurisdiction, history, and court-martial, this blog sheds light on the Armed Forces Tribunal’s justice system, which is within the military.


KEYWORDS: AFT act, Court-martial, Amendment, Military


INTRODUCTION

[1]In 1999, the 169th report of the Law Commission stated that service and disciplinary matters needed speedy resolutions and put forward a special tribunal for army forces, i.e., the Indian Army, the Indian Air Force, and the Indian Navy. After this, the act for the Indian Army was passed by parliament, i.e., the Armed Forces Tribunal Act 2007, which gave rise to the establishment of the AFT, i.e., the Armed Forces Tribunal.

The Armed Forces Tribunal Is the name of a military tribunal in India. The Armed Forces Tribunal Act of 2007 established it, and as of August 8, 2009, it was a recognized legal entity. AFT is a military or army tribunal in India. AFT has the power to resolve disputes and guide cases involving enlistments, commissions, appointments, and states of service for those that are covered by the Army Act of 1950, the Air Force Act of 1950 and the Navy Act of 1957. There is a principle bench of AFT, i.e., in New Delhi, and besides this principle bend, there are 10 regional benches that are situated in different cities in India. Regional benches of AFT are in Chennai, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Guwahati, Kolkata, Mumbai, Srinagar, Jabalpur, Jaipur, and Kochi. Only Chandigarh and Lucknow have three benches. The Armed Forces Tribunal follows all the procedures as they are followed in the High Court. All proceedings are done in English.


COMPOSITION OF ARMED FORCES TRIBUNAL

[2]Each bench of the AFT has one judicial member and one administrative member

· Judicial member: Retired judges of the high court are appointed as judicial members in AFT.

· Administration member: Judge Advocate General (JAG), who have held the appointment for at least one year, and retired members of the armed forces who have held the rank of Major General/equivalent or above for a period of three years or more are also eligible to be appointed as Administrative Members.

The present structure of the organization of the Armed Forces Tribunal (from November 30, 2020) is:

· Justice Rajendra Menon is the current chairperson of the Armed Forces Tribunal (Principal Bench).

· Justice Mrs. Sunil Gupta, Lt. Gen. PM Hariz, Lt.Gen. Phillip Campose, and Air Marshal BBP Sinha are the members of the Armed Forces Tribunal.


FUNCTIONS OR POWER OF AFT

For those authorized by the Army Act of 1950, the Air Force Act of 1950 and the Navy Act of 1957, to settle disputes and complaints about commissions, appointments, enlistments, and periods of service. The Armed Forces may consider appeals regarding a court-martial order, judgement, finding, sentence, or any subject relevant to or supplementary to such an order . The tribunal has the power to grant bail to any accused person who has been in the custody of the military. The bail so offered may be subject to restrictions or not, as determined by the tribunal. For the purposes of applicable parts of the Indian Penal Code and Chapter XXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the Armed Forces Tribunal serves as a criminal court.


COURT-MARTIAL

[3]A court of military or court-military is called a court-martial, and trials for military personnel are conducted here. Armed forces personnel subject to military law may be found guilty or not guilty by a court-martial, which also has the authority to determine the defendant’s punishment. A court-martial Is a particular kind of military tribunal with the authority to trial members of the armed forces for transgressions of military law. By ensuring that military personnel are held accountable for their conduct, a court-martial serves to uphold discipline and order within the armed forces.


PROCESS OF COURT-MARTIAL

The Army first creates a CoI (court of inquiry) for the purpose of investigating claims made against its members. This stage is comparable to when the police register a First Information Report (FIR). The investigation of the complaint is done by the court of inquiry, but the COI can’t award the punishment. Recording of the statement of witnesses is done by CoI, which is equivalent to a police officer questioning a witness under Section 161 of CrPC, i.e., the Code of Criminal Procedure. On the basis of the findings of the COI, a temporary charge sheet will be drawn by the officer in command, i.e., the commanding officer of the accused officer. Hearings take place after this, and then there will be a recording of the summary of evidence. When all this process is completed, a General Court-martial (GCM) is ordered, which is similar to the conduct that is conducted by the judicial court for civilians. The accused can go further with the filing of pre-confirmation and post-confirmation petitions as per Section 164 of the Army Act of 1950.

· The Army commander looks into the matter of the pre-confirmation petition.

· Although post-confirmation should be filed with the government as the officer is discharged, i.e., his ranks will be removed, he will be dismissed from the army service after the confirmation from the Army Commander.

After all these procedures, the accused can advance to the Armed Forces Tribunal. AFT can suspend the sentence of the accused.


[4]ARMED FORCES TRIBUNAL (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2012

On August 13, 2012, the Armed Forces Tribunal (Amendment) Bill, 2012, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Mr. A. K. Antony, Minister of Defence at the time. The main target of the bill was to amend some proposed points of the Armed Forces Tribunal Act 2007, i.e.,

· The tenure period of the chairperson and member of the tribunal should be increased to 5 years from 4 years, and they won’t be able to reappoint as per the present act.

· The age limit for chairpersons should be increased to 67 years from 65 years, and the age limit for judicial members should also be increased to 67 years from 65 years.

· As the High Court has the power of contempt of court, that should also be given to the Tribunal.


DEFENCE MINISTRY vs LAW MINISTRY

The Armed Forces Tribunal comes under the Ministry of Defence, but there’s always controversy over whether to transfer it to the Ministry of Law and Justice. By making this change, the MoD will no longer be able to influence decisions and will remain independent of parent ministries. In 2010, the Supreme Court instructed that every tribunal shouldn’t be associated with their individual ministries and should come ideally under a single nodal department. This is one reason that the Supreme Court of India wants the Tribunal to be removed from their present current ministry, as conflict is of interest.


AUTHOR'S ANALYSIS

Due to the implementation of Armed Forces Tribunal in India there comes a lot of discipline and army personnel are getting speedy justice. AFT solves numerous of disputes between the army personnel. Cases on disability pension, seeking appeal everything that comes under Army Act, Navy Act and Airforce Act are solved in Armed Forces Tribunal. AFT gives the right direction to the military persons as they are serving for the nation. Tribunal consists of two members which gives more clarity to the judgement and saves a lot of time. The tribunal hears the service matters and the cases that come from the court-martial. Armed Forces Tribunal has the power to suspend the charges or sentence that has been given by the court-martial to the accused person. Cases regarding commission, appointments, pensions, promotions, enrolment, and termination of service come in AFT. Armed Forces Tribunal didn’t take cases of transfers and postings. Armed Forces Tribunal


CONCLUSION

In order to address the issue of delays in the resolution of conflicts between members of an armed force, give speedy trials and justice to the people, which saves lots of time and releases the stress of army personnel. The military justice delivery system in the Indian armed forces continues to be out of pace with societal justice due to colonial hangovers. Most people who join the military come from disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds. Due to financial limitations, individuals are unable to seek legal remedies even when they are mistreated by a court-martial ruling or an unfair administrative action. As a result, only a small number of cases have historically been sent to the superior courts. The military has received harsh criticism from the courts in many of these cases for imposing unfair and disproportionate punishments.

Force and the force in civil courts, the Armed Forces Tribunal was created. More steps must be taken immediately to address the issue of these delays. The Armed Forces Tribunal is a specialised court that deals with the legal matters of the military, which include grievances, disputes, and disciplinary cases. AFT is established to ensure accountability, fairness, and an accurate system of justice within the armed forces. AFT is providing army personnel with a separate judicial mechanism to seek relief from their problems away from civilian courts. AFT handles cases related to pensions, promotions, and court-martial appeals that affect military justice. AFT’s main aim is to maintain discipline, uphold the justice system of army personnel, protect the rights and regulations of every military person, and give them a speedy trial.


REFERENCES [1] Armed Forces Tribunal (2022) Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armed_Forces_Tribunal (Accessed: 06 August 2023). [2] Admin (2021) Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) India – facts, composition, functions, BYJUS. Available at: https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/aft-armed-forces-tribunal/ (Accessed: 06 August 2023). [3] Drishti IAS (2023) Court-martial, Drishti IAS. Available at: https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-analysis/court-martial (Accessed: 06 August 2023). [4] Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) – composition, jurisdiction & more (no date) Testbook. Available at: https://testbook.com/ias-preparation/armed-forces-tribunal (Accessed: 06 August 2023).


AUTHOR - Riya Singh

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