Supreme Court Allows Lawyers To Be Appointed On Tribunals
Birds fly over the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

Supreme Court Allows Lawyers To Be Appointed On Tribunals

The Supreme Court of India has upheld the validity of the Tribunal Rules, 2020, with modifications in the appointment process including allowing lawyers to be appointed as judicial members in all the tribunals.

The top court bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat was hearing a batch of petitions over the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2020 (2020 Rules).

The Madras Bar Association had challenged the 2020 rules on the grounds that:

  • The search-cum-selection committees did not conform to the principles of judicial dominance.
  • Appointing persons without any judicial experience to the post of judicial members/chairperson contravenes earlier directions of the top court.
  • Advocates were not being made eligible for appointment to most of the tribunals.
  • Administrative control of the executive in matters relating to appointments and conditions of service violated the principle of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary.

The three-judge bench had reserved its order in October after hearing a battery of lawyers including Senior Advocate Arvind Datar who was amicus curiae in the case and Attorney General for India Senior Advocate KK Venugopal who argued on behalf of the central government.

The bench passed a slew of directions modifying the rules which include:

  • Setting up of the National Tribunals Commission for the administration of tribunals. Until then, a separate wing in the Ministry of Finance will coordinate the administration of tribunals.
  • The composition of the search and selection committee for tribunals has been expanded from four to five members. The 2020 rules provided for two secretaries which has been increased by the apex court to three. So, the committee will now comprise:
  1. The Chief Justice of India or his nominee who will have the casting vote.
  2. Law secretary
  3. Sitting or outgoing chairperson of the respective tribunal.
  4. A member secretary without a vote and he/she will be the secretary of the parent department of that tribunal.
  5. A secretary in the Government of India who will be nominated by the cabinet secretary.
  • An advocate who has 10 years of experience will now be eligible to be appointed as a judicial member in tribunals.
  • Officers of the Indian Legal Services with 10 years of experience can also be appointed as a judicial member in the tribunals.
  • The recommendations of the search and selection committee will have to be given effect to within three months and it’ll have a final say in matters involving disciplinary action.
  • The new rules will have prospective effect and will not affect the appointments made to the tribunals before Feb. 12, 2020.
  • The minimum term of appointments will be for five years and such appointees will be eligible to seek reappointment.

Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra represented the National Company Law Tribunal Bar Association, while Senior Advocate AS Chandiok appeared for the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal bar association. Former Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi along with Senior Advocates CA Sundaram, Vikas Singh, CS Vaidyanathan and Additional Solicitor Generals Balbir Singh and SV Raju also appeared in the case along with a number of other senior advocates.

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