The Supreme Court upheld the validity of Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal, and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience, and Other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2020 with some modifications and ordered the constitution of National Tribunals Commission to fulfill the requirements of the tribunals.
The petitioner, Madras Bar Association (MBA) filed a petition challenging the 2020 Rules for violating the principle of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary.
The petition stated that the 2020 Rules posed a threat to the independence of the judiciary and to effective and efficient administration of justice. The Rules, the plea said, were ex-facie against the decisions of the Supreme Court, particularly Rojer Mathew v. South Indian Bank Ltd.
The Apex Court held that the 2020 Rules shall apply prospectively from February 12, 2020, and issued a slew of directions to govern tribunals and the appointments and service conditions of tribunal members.
Accordingly, lawyers with legal practice of 10 years will be eligible for appointment as judicial members of tribunals.
For the purpose of the constitution of the tribunal, the three-judge Bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta, and S Ravindra Bhat issued various directions.
Firstly, till the constitution of the National Tribunals Commission, a separate wing should be established at the Ministry of Finance to cater to the requirements of tribunals.
Secondly, Advocates with experience of 10 years will be eligible for appointment as judicial members in tribunals. Members of Indian Legal Service will also be eligible for appointment as judicial members provided they fulfill the same criteria as advocates.
Thirdly, the Chief Justice of India or his nominee will have a casting vote in the search committee. The committee will also comprise Secretary to Ministry of Law and Justice and Secretary to Government of India from a department other than the parent or sponsoring department nominated by the cabinet secretary. The secretary of the sponsoring department shall be member secretary without vote.
Fourthly, with respect to matters of disciplinary action, the recommendations made by the Search and Selection committee shall be final.
Fifthly, appointments to tribunals shall be made within 3 months from the date on which the process is complete and recommendations are made by the search committee.
Sixthly, the 2020 Rules shall have prospective effect and will be applicable only from February 12, 2020.
Seventhly, appointments made prior to 2017 Rules and appointments made during pendency of Rojer Mathew judgment shall be governed by respective statutes.
Eighthly, Chairpersons, Vice-Chairpersons, and members of tribunals appointed prior to February 12, 2020 shall be governed by parent statute and rules as per which they were appointed.
Ninthly, 2020 Rules shall be applicable with the modifications laid down in the judgment to those who were appointed after February 12, 2020.
Lastly, when reserving the matter for judgment, the Supreme Court had extended the tenures of chairpersons, vice-chairpersons, and members of tribunals till December 31, 2020. In view of the final judgment, the retirements of chairpersons, vice-chairpersons, and members of tribunals shall be in accordance with the applicable rules.