Courts Update SC reverses Tribunal Reforms Ordinance on age limit...

SC reverses Tribunal Reforms Ordinance on age limit of lawyers as Tribunal members

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New Delhi, Jul 15 (ILNS) The Supreme Court has reversed the provisions made to the Finance Act, 2017 by the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalization and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 that fixed the minimum age limit of 50 years for the appointment of members in various tribunals, calling it ‘discrimination based on age’.

The process will lead to entire exclusion of successful young advocates, especially those who might be trained and competent in a particular subject, such as Indirect Taxation, Anti-Dumping, Income-Tax, International Taxation and Telecom Regulation), observed Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, while striking down the provision by a 2:1 majority yesterday.

The majority noted minimum 50 years age limit, which was introduced by the ordinance, violated the court’s earlier direction that advocates with minimum experience of 10 years should be made eligible for appointment as members of tribunals.

Justice Bhat said the qualification of a minimum age of 50 years is discriminatory, because it is neither shown to have a rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved, which is appointing the most meritorious candidates; nor is it shown to be based on any empirical study or data.

“It is plain and simple, discrimination based on age. The criterion (of minimum 50 years of age) is virtually ‘picked out from a hat’ and wholly arbitrary,” noted Justice Bhat.

The top court said the Constitution makes an advocate, who has practiced for more than 10 years, eligible for consideration for appointment as a judge of the high court and even the top court. Also, an advocate with seven years’ practice with the Bar can be considered for appointment to the position of a district judge.

Observing that data from other tribunals showed that past appointment to these positions was amongst younger and competent persons, the court said: “The Union has not shown why this past history requires departure, and why that longstanding basis for appointing younger professionals, now needs to be departed from, in public interest.”

Three separate judgements were delivered by a bench of Justice Rao, Justice Bhat and Justice Hemant Gupta on a plea by the Madras Bar Association, challenging Sections 12 and 13 of the ordinance, by which Sections 184 and 186 (2) of the Finance Act, 2017 was amended.

The majority also set aside other provisions of the Ordinance, including four-year tenure of Chairmen and members of various tribunals, calling them unconstitutional. Justice Hemant Gupta dissented from the majority and dismissed the writ petition. ILNS/KR/SNG/RJ

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