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A comprehensive guide to tribunals [2024]

This is a comprehensive guide to tribunals.

In this guide you will learn;

  • meaning of tribunals
  • example of tribunals
  • why tribunals
  • difference between tribunals and courts
  • the similarity between tribunals and courts
  • practice and procedures in tribunals

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Meaning of Tribunals

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A tribunal is an independent adjudicatory body that is normally set up by statutes to deal with certain disputes arising under a particular area of law or statute.

Tribunals share almost similar features with ordinary courts but are not courts per see. 

They are quasi-judicial bodies with powers emanating from the statute.

Examples of tribunals are;

  1. The Ward Tribunals were established under the Ward Tribunals Act, 1985 Cap 206 R.E 2002 to deal with civil matters;
  2. The District Land and Housing Tribunals established under the Courts (Land dispute settlements) Act, 2002 [Act no.2 of 2002,
  3. The Fair Competition Tribunal was established under the Fair Competition Act, 2003 (Act no. 8 of 2003).

Rationale of Tribunals

The following are the reasons for establishing tribunals

  1. The ordinary court system proved inadequate to deal with all the cases brought before it
  2. A need to have bodies that can take preventive measures
  3. A need to have bodies that can enforce departmental policies
  4. A need to have institutions that have specialized jurisdiction
  5. Cheapness, accessibility, and freedom from technicality
  6. A need to have bodies that can have Flexibility in their proceedings

Difference between Courts and Tribunals

The following are the difference between courts and tribunals

  1. Courts are part of the traditional judicial system while tribunals are agencies or statutory bodies.
  2. Courts deal with various issues/disputes while tribunals are formed for specific issues/disputes like tax, land, etc.
  3. Courts are free from Executive Influence while tribunals are Part and parcel of the Executive arm
  4. Courts have the power to control legislation but tribunals have no such powers.
  5. The court is composed of well-trained personnel in the field of law like judges, Magistrates, registrars, etc. but it is not for tribunal personnel to possess a qualification in the field of law unless the law makes it mandatory. For example, the ward tribunal is composed of non-lawyers personnel.
  6. Courts control tribunals while are tribunals subordinate to courts? Here the decisions of tribunals may be challenged by the court of competent jurisdiction through appeal review or revision but tribunals cannot challenge the decision of courts.
  7. Courts are bound to follow strict rules of evidence and procedure but tribunals are not strictly bound to follow strict rules of evidence and procedure.

In the case of State of Mysore v Shivabasappa AIR 1963 SC 375 it was stated;

“Tribunals exercising quasi-judicial functions are not courts and therefore they are not bound to follow the procedure prescribed for trial of actions in courts nor are they bound by strict rules of evidence.

They can, unlike courts, obtain all information material for the points under inquiry from all sources, and through all channels, without being fettered by rules and procedures which govern proceedings in court.

Similarities between Courts and Tribunals

  1. courts and tribunals derive their legality from various statutory instruments and the Constitution.
  2. Both courts and tribunals are adjudicatory bodies that deal with disputes between parties
    • On this, it was stated in the case of Associated Cement Co. Ltd V P.N. Sharma AIR 1965 SC 1595 that the basic and the fundamental feature which is common to both the courts and the tribunals is that they discharge judicial functions and exercise judicial powers which inherently vest in a sovereign state.
  3. Both are governed by the principle of neutrality and impartiality while deciding the dispute before them. However, in some circumstances, the administrative tribunal can be an interested party to the dispute in which it is adjudicating. But in all such circumstances, the duty to act judicially is there for the purpose of ensuring that justice prevails.

Practice and Procedures in tribunals

In discharging their powers, tribunals are not required to adhere to technical and strict rules of evidence.

Therefore hearsay evidence, Admissibility of documents, the issues of burden of proof, etc can be decided depending on the circumstances of the dispute and not relying on the strict rules of evidence.

The only obligation which the law casts on them is that they should not act on any information which they may receive unless they put it to the party against whom it is to be used and give him a fair opportunity to explain it.

What is a fair opportunity must depend on the facts and circumstances of each case but where such an opportunity had been given, the proceedings are not open to attack the ground that the inquiry was not conducted in accordance with the procedure followed in courts.

When deciding any matter before it, an administrative tribunal is expected to give reasons for any decision made.

Giving reasons is considered one of the cardinal principles of natural justice.

This duty was emphasized in the case of M.P. Industries v Union of India, AIR 1966 SC 671 where it was stated that;

“The condition to give reasons introduces clarity and excludes or at any rate, minimizes arbitrariness; it gives satisfaction to the party against whom the order is made, and it also enables an appellate or supervisory court to keep the tribunals within bounds.

A reasoned order is a desirable condition of judicial disposal”

How to challenge the tribunal’s decision

The decision of the administrative tribunal can be challenged in the following ways;

By way of appeal

An appeal is a constitutional right. However, one cannot enforce this right on the basis of the Constitution. One can appeal against the decision of the Tribunal if the law established that Tribunal or that empowers its adjudicatory functions gives room for appeal. The right to appeal is not inherent. It originates from the statute.

Read also: what is an appeal and how it works

By way of revision

Decisions made by administrative tribunals can be revised by higher authorities or ordinary courts of law upon application from the party which is dissatisfied with the decision of the particular tribunal.

By supervision

The law may grant supervisory power which gives a mandate to the court to call for the records of proceedings of a particular tribunal and satisfy itself with the way the decision was reached. Such supervisory power can go to the extent of reversing the decision which was made.

By review

The Tribunal may, on application by any party to the dispute or on its own motion, revisit its own decision and correct any error made when making such a decision. This is what is termed a review.

By reference

Sometimes the tribunal on its own motion and where the law provides for the same may refer its decision to the Higher authority or ordinary court of law so that the latter can satisfy itself on the way proceedings were conducted or seek for the proper interpretation of the law.

By Judicial Review-control of Tribunals by High Court

Judicial review is the power vested in the High Court.

Tribunals may be challenged in this way where;

The statute does not provide for a right to appeal, revision, or reference to any higher authority against the order passed by an administrative tribunal or authority
The statute expressly provides that the decision made by the administrative tribunal or authority is final and conclusive.

In the case of Tanzania Air Service Ltd v Minister for Labour and 2 others [1996] TLR 217, the Court stated that;

The provision that the…decision is final and conclusive does not mean that the decision cannot be reviewed by the High Court; indeed no appeal will lie against such a decision but an aggrieved party may come to the High Court and ask for prerogative orders.

Although some of the Tribunals have been given the power to give decisions that are final and conclusive, such decisions can be quashed by the court where these tribunals exceed their jurisdiction.

If at all individuals would have not been given the opportunity to challenge the arbitrariness of some of the decisions of administrative tribunals, then the fate of justice would be put into jeopardy.

Isack Kimaro
Isack Kimaro

Isack Kimaro, a lawyer, Creative Writer and self-taught SEO expert has been a prominent author of law-related topics since 2017. Through hard work, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of knowledge, Isack has successfully navigated the legal industry by providing valuable and easy-to-understand legal information to 500,000+ individuals of all levels of understanding.