Speedy justice is a fundamental right under Article 21

Uttaranchal High Court: A Division Bench comprising of Rajiv Sharma and Lok Pal Singh, JJ. allowed a writ petition directing the Central Government to establish a regional bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal in the State of Uttarakhand.

The petition was filed by ex-servicemen, a practicing advocate. He demanded the establishment of a permanent bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal in the State of Uttarakhand. According to the petitioner, it was difficult for the serving as well as retired servicemen to have access to the Armed Force Tribunal at Lucknow. It is noteworthy that the Lucknow bench was established in the year 2009 with jurisdiction over the States of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Uttarakhand. Later, in 2016, a regional bench was established at Jabalpur with jurisdiction over Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It was submitted that a total of 220 cases of the Uttarakhand State were pending before the regional bench at Lucknow. Thus, the petitioner sought the prayer as mentioned hereinabove.

The High Court noted that the underlying principle of Armed Force Tribunal Act 2007, is to provide access to justice within a reasonable cost to the service personnel. Further, the largest number of service personnel hailed from the State of Uttarakhand. Section 30 of the Act bars the jurisdiction of all civil courts as well as the high courts in the service matters of the servicemen. There were 220 pending cases from the State, and this number seemed to be less as many cases including those by the widows of the service personnel must have never reached the bench at Lucknow since it is difficult for many people to reach the bench at Lucknow, given the geography and difficult terrain of the State. The High Court observed access to speedy justice is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. Armed Forces Tribunal had been constituted to fortify the trust and confidence among members of the three services in the system of dispensation of justice in their service-related matters. The servicemen have a right to approach the Tribunal for adjudication of their service matters at a reasonably accessible place. The sacrifices made by the armed forces personnel during active war and peace could not be forgotten. The society has a duty to ensure that their grievances are redressed immediately. Having observed thus, the High Court directed the Central Government to establish a regional bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal in the State of Uttarakhand, at an appropriate place. [Lalit Kumar v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine Utt 579, dated 12-06-2018]

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