Advantages & Disadvantages of Tribunal over Court system: If you do a quick research about how largely the tribunal system has been adopted all over the world, you will find out that most civilized countries use this system of settling dispute more often. For example, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Hong Kong and even India use this system on special occasions.
In my opinion, the tribunal system might replace the normal court system because of its numerous advantages. However, that does not also mean that it has no disadvantages too. I mean, there are also reasons why one will prefer the normal court process than a tribunal.
In today’s post, i will discuss the Advantages & Disadvantages of Tribunal System Over court system. This article is basically to educate and enlighten lawyers and law students on the pros and cons of a tribunal, or what is sometimes called Administrative Adjudication.
Before we move to the crux of this topic, I would like to explicitly explain what a tribunal is. Trust me; this will go a long way to help you understand everything I will explain here. Here we go!
What is a Tribunal?
A Tribunal is a special court usually established by the government outside the hierarchy of the regular court system to hear and determine matters of a particular kind.
A tribunal can also be said to be a person or a body exercising judicial or quasi judicial functions outside the regular court system.
It is a special court consisting of a person or a panel of persons who are officially chosen, by government to look into a problem of a particular kind, or perform such judicial or quasi-judicial functions as functions usually set up by government under statute and existing areas outside the hierarchy of the regular court system to;
- Investigate matters of public importance
- To hear and determine cases, matters or claim of a particular kind, between parties, whether such parties be persons bodies or government.
It is also pertinent to note that tribunals in Nigeria are usually appointed by the government pursuant to the Tribunals and Inquiries Act, or it’s equivalent laws is the state, or under other specific statute enacted for that purpose.
Advantages of Tribunals over court system
Below are the advantages of Tribunals over normal court system:
One of the major advantages of Tribunals over normal court system is that; persons in charge of the system are usually experts. Tribunals are special courts of experts in different walks of life. This enables it to try any matter before it, be it medical, legal, engineering matters.
By way of illustration, the matter before a court might be technical and scientific in nature. This makes it difficult for the judge to sit over such matters because he is knowledgeable in law not in science.
So, instead of advocating that judges should specialize in handling certain matters, efforts are however made to create tribunal that will handle such special cases. Most time, this is why a tribunal is adopted in a matter.
Another important advantage which tribunal system has over the normal court system is its less expensive or cheap nature. Nobody likes to spend a lot of money filing cases in court, so they prefer going through a tribunal.
Proceedings conducted in administrative tribunal are often very cheap, unlike that of regular courts. This is observed both from the litigant’s perspective and from the vantage point of the administrative authority.
In Nigeria, disputes can take about 5 years before they are settled and discharged from a normal court. Undoubtedly, the court system is always characterized by unnecessary delays and bottlenecks occasioned by strict observance of the rule of evidence and procedure. To corroborate this, you can read the cases of Mojekwu v Mojekwu or Mojekwu v Iwuchukwu.
Nonetheless, In tribunals, the proceedings are usually fast and free from unnecessary adjournment and interlocutory appeals. The cases are dealt with timeously and expeditiously. This is actually one of the major advantage of Tribunal system of courts.
Many legal authors and researchers have corroborated the fact that a normal court give wrong decision in a legal matter because it is bound to follow some stipulated rules (I.e rules of evidence and procedure), but tribunals are not bound to follow any rule. This is one of the advantages is has over the court system.
Tribunala are not bound to follow the rules of evidence and procedure, neither are they tie to the principles of stare decisis. This make for flexibility in the system. The reverse is always the case in ordinary courts.
Informality of percedures:
Proceedings of a Tribunal is usually informal without the whole paraphernalia of regular court proceedings such as lawyers professional dressing, wig and gown, formalities in pleadings and so on. This ensures easy fact finding and justice.
It is designed to make the common man feel at home and fully play his expected role as the justice of the particular case demands. Indeed, this is also one of the advantages tribunal systems has over court.
Now that you have known the advantages of a tribunal over the normal court system, i will now share with you the disadvantages of this tribunal system, and why the court system may still be preferred.
Disadvantages of Tribunals over court system
Below are the disadvantages of a tribunal over the normal court system:
Inadequate Legal knowledge:
Most times, members of tribunals lack the requisite legal knowledge of fact finding ability because they have not been trained in that field. Consequently upon this, they make use of assessors and that can lead to injustice. The case is different in a court system with judges that have been trained for years.
Apparently, this a good reason why Tribunal System should not always be adopted in every legal matter. It is one of the major disadvantages of an administrative tribunal.
Loyalty to government of the day:
In most cases, members of a tribunal are often appointed by particular government administration, and as such, they are more or less loyal to the Administration or government that set it up.
This goes to shows that they lack independence, fair hearing and impartiality in reaching their decision especially where the decision concern the government that created them.
In other words, their decisions tend to favor the government of the day in almost all cases. This is why many authors frown at the use of tribunals instead of a regular court till today. It is undoubtedly one of the disadvantages tribunal system has over court system.
Inadequate observance of legal procedure:
One of the striking characteristics of the court system is judicial precedent which ensure consistency in law. However, tribunals are not bound by rules of evidence and procedure or Judicial precedence.
They therefore tend to reach their decision in most cases without sufficient grounds for each. For this reason, some authors are of the opinion that tribunal system should be jettisoned. Obviously, this is also one of the disadvantages of tribunals over the regular court system.
Secrecy of sittings:
Tribunals often sit in camera without allowing Journalists and the entire public to watch their preceding. This secrecy of proceedings could lead to injustice in some cases and as a result, judgements given by these tribunals are viewed with Suspicion by members of the public.
This is not so in a court system. Proceedings of the court are usually made public and sometimes published for anyone to read. Apparently, this is why many people truth the court system than tribunal system.
Inadequate explanation of the reason for decision:
There is this popular saying that; “It is not enough for justice to be done in any matter, it must also be seen to have been done”. What this means is that, before any decision is made on any matter, it must be obvious that the decision is proper.
This is apparently why judges in always give reasons for their decision in every legal matter. The reason given by a judge is known as his Ratio(s) decidendi.
It denotes, in ordinary sense, the reason(s) for the decision. Tribunals however are not always in the culture of adumbrating the reasons behind their decisions.
As opposed to circular court system where one can easily obtain the law report of a case that of tribunals neither reported or published. This is also one of the major disadvantages of a tribunal over court system.
Lack of fair hearing and non-observance of the rule of natural justice:
More often than not, parties in tribunal system are not given fair hearing. This is evidently against the rule of natural justice one of the major fundamental human rights of citizens. In Nigeria for instance, Section 36(1) of the constitution provides that;
“in the determination of his civil right and obligations, a citizen is entitled to fair hearing within a reasonable time and that the court or tribunal should be constituted in a manner in which its independence and impartiality is to be secured”
Following from the above, there exists sacrosanct elements of fair hearing, impartiality, independence which the tribunal is expected to be bound the rule of natural justice encapsulate two principles meme judex in causa sua which means that one should not be a judges in one’s case.
Tribunals often violate this principle. This can be seen from the popular Nigerian case of Alakija v Medical Disciplinary Committee.
On the other hand the second limb of the pillars of natural justice which is that; in every matter, both parties should be heard so that conviction or a finding of guilt cannot be secured on one sided evidence or testimony is also breached in the tribunal system.
Okay! This is where I am going to stop on the advantages & disadvantages
of Tribunal System Over court system. Considering the advantages and disadvantages I have highlighted above, I think the Tribunal system should only be used in situations where it is best to use the system.
Where it is apparent that using the tribunal system will lead to injustice, then the court system should be adopted.