It is a matter of common knowledge that Prior to the enforcement of Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 all matters relating to the persons in the Service of Pakistan or Government service used to be dealt with either by the ordinary Courts or the High Courts. In the year 1973, in the wake of Administrative Reforms, some drastic steps were introduced, conceiving a separate, independent and autonomous forum for adjudication of disputes relating to the conditions of service of the persons in the Service of Pakistan. As a consequence, Art.212 of the Constitution was introduced envisaging the establishment of Administrative Tribunals to exercise exclusive jurisdiction in respect of matters relating to the terms and conditions of persons in the Service of Pakistan including disciplinary matters.
It is thus that the Parliament enacted the Civil Servants Act, 1973 and the Service Tribunals Act, 1973. The later was the result of enabling provisions of Art.212 of the Constitution aimed at to establish Federal Service Tribunal. In the Statement of Objects and Reasons for enacting the Service Tribunals Act, 1973, it was clearly mentioned “Article 212 of the Constitution provides that the appropriate legislature may by Act establish one or more Administrative Courts or Tribunals to exercise exclusive jurisdiction, amongst other matters, in respect of terms and conditions of persons in the service of Pakistan, including disciplinary matters”. Thus, the Tribunal has its existence in the Constitution itself. The Hon'ble Supreme Court in Muhammad Yameen Qureshi v. Islamic Republic of Pakistan [PLD 1980 SC 22] highlighting its exclusivity of jurisdiction and origin observed “whose establishment is permitted by the Constitution itself” and that it has wide powers under Section 5 of the Act which is deemed to be a “Civil Court” for the purposes of deciding appeals having all such powers as are vested in the Court under the Code of Civil Procedure including the power to compel the production of documents. It has also been noted that such a Tribunal is “presided generally by a serving or retired Judge of the High Court able to do full justice” in the matter. In another case Islamic Republic of Pakistan v. Dr. Safdar Mehmood [PLD 1983 SC 100], the Hon'ble Court, conscious of the position prevailing prior to the establishment of the Tribunal, noted that “the law reports are replete with decisions on this question and testify to the extensive use made of the writ jurisdiction of the High Courts.” It was observed that to avoid the interference by the High Courts in the affairs of the service, completely new provisions were enacted in the Constitution of 1973 (Art. 212) which permitted the legislature to establish Administrative Courts or Tribunals with exclusive jurisdiction in the matters relating to the terms and conditions of persons in the service of Pakistan. Thus “The Civil Servants Act, 1973 was enacted on 26.9.1973 to regulate the appointments and provide terms and conditions of persons in the Service of Pakistan. Contemporaneously, the Service Tribunals Act, 1973 to provide for the establishment of Service Tribunals to exercise jurisdiction in respect of matters relating to the terms and conditions of service of civil servants was enacted on 29.9.1973”. . . . . . . . “Thus, under the new dispensation the Service Tribunal was made the sole arbiter of all the disputes relevant to the terms and conditions of civil servants; the jurisdiction of ordinary Courts was excluded altogether in these matters and even matters pending before them abated as soon as the Tribunal was established……. The Members of the Tribunal were to be appointed by the President and were expected to be experienced administrators, to be presided over by a Judge or a person qualified to be a Judge of the High Court and the orders passed by it were to be final. . . . . The only limitation to their otherwise complete powers in all such matters was that a right to this Court to grant leave to appeal in cases wherein it was satisfied that a substantial question of law of public importance was involved was allowed by sub-Art.(3) of Art.212 of the Constitution”. This is the importance, extent of powers and jurisdiction of FST highlighted by the Apex Court.
In a recent judgment Sheikh Riaz-ul-Haq and another v. Federation of Pakistan and others (PLD 2013 SC 501] while highlighting the background of the establishment of Service Tribunal, its powers, jurisdiction and authority in such matters, it has been held that it is a judicial forum akin to High Courts and Federal Shariat Court which performs judicial functions and exercises judicial powers and enjoys the status of a Court “required to be separated from the Executive in terms of Art.175 of the Constitution” which should act independently, following the principle of Independence of Judiciary, especially since their role is in substitution of the highest constitutional body i.e. High Courts and the Tribunal as judicial forum must enforce Fundamental Right of access to justice and should also enjoy financial autonomy as has been given to the High Courts and the Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan. In conclusion, certain amendments in the existing law i.e. The Service Tribunals Act, 1973 were proposed and recommended for achieving its objectives.
The salient aspects about the Federal Service Tribunal highlighted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan are that it has been established under the enabling provisions of the Constitution (Art. 212); it is in substitution of the High Courts; it performs judicial functions and exercises judicial powers and is a “Court” and that it has exclusive jurisdiction in the matters pertaining to the conditions of service of persons in Service of Pakistan, with wide powers, amenable to the jurisdiction of Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan under Art. 212(3) only when special leave to appeal is granted on a substantial question of law. However, an essential aspect which needs attention is that despite the verdict of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of Pakistan that the role of the “Tribunal is in substitution of the highest constitutional body i.e. High Courts” and is a judicial forum, which should have financial and administrative autonomy, the Tribunal is still considered as an attached department of Government.
Ever since the establishment of the Tribunal, it was headed by a Chairman from the judiciary (a serving or a retired Judge of Superior Court) which is consistent with the debates in the Parliament that the Chairman of the Tribunal should be a Judge of Superior Court “so that the Tribunal carries its weight and people have confidence that they are going to meet justice from Tribunal consisting of the judiciary officer as well as senior Government Servants”. It shows the high importance and the status of the Tribunal and expectation of dispensation of justice to the parties. Keeping all such aspects in view, I assumed this office with an objective to carry forward and take steps for possible improvements in its working and delivery of justice. I took over the office during the last days of year 2015 and launched program of clearance of backlog of old cases and expeditious disposal of cases. In order to achieve the goal, I took the Members of the Tribunal and administration along with me through formal and informal meetings. As the Bar is an integral limb of our judicial system, the learned members of the Bar who practice and conduct cases in service matters before the Tribunal were also taken into confidence. A formal meeting of all the Members of the Tribunal was convened at the Principal Seat to discuss and devise policy for due functioning of the Benches, fixation of cases and other allied matters. It was first ever such a meeting in which policy decisions were taken. Alhamdolillah, by the end of the year 2016 we were able to bring down the pendency to below 5000 cases. It was all due to the cooperation of the learned members of the Bar and devoted performance by the learned Benches of the Tribunal and support staff of the office. An organized effort has been made for case management / disposal. Weekly cause list issuance has been introduced as also prompt issuance of judgments of decided cases.
Launching of website is one such effort which has been carried out to provide ease to the litigants and lawyers to get prior information about due dates of their appeals through cause-lists duly uploaded on the website. There has been immense need for launching such website so as to enable the judicial fraternity to render expeditious justice with better legal outputs. The Tribunal offer this website as an efficient source of timely and relevant information, in an effort to continue fulfilling our mandate by improving access to justice and maintaining confidence in the judiciary. Innovative features have been incorporated, including a more robust judgment search function which incorporates new fields in the search template to help refine and narrow requests, allowing for more accurate and search-specific results. This will prove especially useful to lawyers and litigants in their search for important judgments of the Tribunal for precedents. The website will also enable the lawyers and litigants to get information about their case status through online legal information system, and Cause Lists. Statistical reports will also be provided to further update about the status of cases in the Tribunal. All the forms, publications, contacts and tenders will also be provided over the website. This is truly a significant milestone, one which evokes tremendous pride for the Judicial Officers, past and present, the Staff of this Tribunal and me, civil servants and lawyers should find this website a much more satisfying experience in terms of the ease and efficiency which it can be navigated. Thus, it is hoped, will lead to greater and more frequent use, and become the preferred information tool for keeping abreast of the Tribunal’s work, its schedule/calendar and events. I am particularly pleased to see this become a reality having regard to the fact that we have launched the website of Federal Service Tribunal. Effort will continue to ensure that user-experience is optimized. To this end we would welcome constructive feedback from the civil servants, Lawyers, and litigants.
In the end, I congratulate the Administration of Federal Service Tribunal for creating this useful website. I hope this website will prove to be very useful for the expeditious administration of justice.