Claims Tribunal : Powers and Procedure

Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, 1988 is an act that was passed by parliament of India in July 1989. The act deals with all aspects of road transport vehicles, however it got replaced recently by Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, 2019, one of the most salient features of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 was it’s provision of proper legal remedy in transport related cases by establishment of motor accidents claim tribunals which substituted civil courts in order to provide cheaper and speedier remedy to the victims of motor vehicle accidents. Before the existence of claims tribunals such cases were to be heard by civil courts after an advalorem court fee but under claims tribunal no such fee exists which encourages people to claim for compensation and get hold of their part of justice.

The tribunal follows the summary procedure for adjudication of claims provided as the section do not deal with the substantive law regarding determination of liability.

Section 169 gifts tribunal with all the powers of civil court for the sole purpose of taking evidence on oath and of enforcing attendance of witness. It also doesn’t hold necessary implications for the application of any particular provision of code thus, doesn’t restrict inherent powers to secure ends of justice.

Section 169 clearly mentions that claims tribunal needs to fabricate its own procedures. Another option available to claims tribunal is that it can follow the code of criminal procedure too as it has all the powers equal to a high court. In holding an enquiry under section 168 of the act, claims tribunal can follow any such summary procedure as it thinks suitable.

Such powers are given to this tribunal in order to make a difference between this tribunal and a proper civil court and the whole purpose of doing so is to prevent shaping motor accident cases from taking the form of elaborated and long drawn proceedings of usual civil suit and make the trials of such motor accidents speedier. Thus it can be said that claims tribunal holds vast powers but to ensure speedy justice to the injured person or legal representative of the deceased.

However, to protect the basic rights of people, in spite of having power to decide cases according the summary procedure of their own will, Claims Tribunals can never deprive the respondents of their right to cross examine the petitioners.

Powers of Claim Tribunals

Amendment in pleadings : in some cases, tribunal has power to allow amendment of pleadings but amendment isn’t allowed if valuable right has accrued in favour of opposite party on account of expiry of period of limitation. Also, no amendment can be allowed to introduce new set of ideas to prejudice of any right acquired by any party by lapse of time.

Power of civil court : claims tribunal has the power of CPC for the purpose of taking evidence on oath and for enforcing the attendance of witnesses and of compelling the discovery and production of documents and material objects.

Power to entertain application for restoration : as the SC remedy of restoration of a petition dismissed in default is available under CPC. So the tribunal on analogy of same provisions can entertain an application for restoration.

Power to award costs : in CPC it is discretionary to award costs  but that discretion must be exercised in judicial principles, the same way claims tribunal also hold power of awarding costs according to its discretion with a rule that successful party is entitled to get costs incurred by him unless he is guilty of misconduct or there lies any other reason for disapproving costs.

To review judgement : Claims tribunals also has the power to review its own judgement. It cannot touch accidental errors such as wrong calculation of amount and neither it can rewrite a judgement but can make judgement effective by correcting fundamental errors on face of record.

Apart from above powers, the feature (made in Saramma Scaria v. Mathai) that make Claims Tribunals one the most justice friendly and promising set ups is their duty of procuring necessary information from police, medical and other authorities and proceed to settle the claims whether the parties who were given notice for the hearing appears or not.

It can be concluded that claims tribunals were one of the positive and efficient step that was taken in order to improve the functioning of our legal system by taking away the load of certain kind of cases from civil courts with huge bale of pending cases and making a provision to settle down the motor vehicle accident cases by a certain kind of tribunal which surely ensured effective, speedy and cheaper justice to the victims because the powers given in the hands of the claims tribunal and flexible procedure setup allowed the tribunal to work in the mentioned efficient way.

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