Government Introduces Bill To Reduce Tenure Of Tribunal Members, Rationalise Appointments
A hammer and a gavel (Source: Freepik)

Government Introduces Bill To Reduce Tenure Of Tribunal Members, Rationalise Appointments

The government recently introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha to rationalise and specify conditions regarding appointment of members in tribunals set up under various laws.

The Tribunal Reforms Bill, 2021, also aims to abolish existing tribunals set up under laws relating to cinematograph, copyright, trademark, airports authority, customs, patents and others.

It has also proposed to limit the tenure of a chairperson or member in a tribunal to four years. This is with an intent to override the apex court’s judgment last year which stipulated that the minimum term must be five years. This change, according to the bill, won’t apply with respect to tenure of members or chairpersons who were appointed between May 26, 2017, and a notified date that will be specified later.

The government first proposed such changes through the Finance Act, 2017, which underwent various legal challenges.

Commenting on the intention behind the bill, Sameer Jain, managing partner at PSL Advocates and Solicitors said that in the last five years, the government has been undertaking an overhauling exercise to improve the efficiency of the tribunals either through their abolition or merger on the basis of powers and functions.

Contrary to their original intent, figures from last three years have highlighted that tribunals from diverse sectors haven’t necessarily led to faster justice delivery, sometimes at considerable expense to the exchequer. Reduction of ineffective tribunals will rein in the additional layer of futile litigation and address the lack of proper infrastructure and staff shortage. 
Sameer Jain, partner, PSL Advocates and Solicitors

Here are the key changes in various laws the bill aims to introduce.

Tenure of a member or chairperson in the following will be limited to four years:

  • Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Customs Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal.
  • Securities Appellate Tribunal, Debt Recovery Tribunal and the Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal.
  • National Company Law Appellate Tribunal.
  • National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

Cinematograph Act: A person aggrieved by a decision of the Central Board of Film Certification relating to refusal in granting a certificate or its rating can refer an appeal within 30 days to the high courts. Earlier, such appeals had to be filed in a dedicated tribunal.

Copyright Act: Disputes under the Copyright Act relating to publication of a work, assignment of copyright, compulsory or statutory licensing, license for translation, among others, will now be decided by a commercial court or a commercial division of the high court, as the case may be. The existing appellate board will be discontinued.

Patents Act: The bill proposes that any person who is aggrieved due to an error, absence, omission or entry without sufficient cause in the register of patents must now approach the high court, instead of the existing appellate tribunal.

Trademarks Act: Powers of the appellate board under this law, for cancellation or variation in the register of trademarks will now vest with the high court. Similar change applies to appeals against the decision of trademark registrar.

The bill also lays down the conditions for constitution of a search and selection committee for appointment in tribunals, which must be chaired by the Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court judge.

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