Another CAT

Caractacus at the Tribunal of Claudius at Rome...
Image via Wikipedia

Judicial arrears and case pendency are not a new problem. We have been dealing with these issues and problems for some time now. The setting up of quasi-judicial tribunals was seen as one way of reducing this pendency. Here tribunals would adjudicate disputes based on their thin and defined areas of competence and achieve efficiency in disposal and accuracy in rendering decisions. India’s experience with quasi-judicial tribunals in its introductory stage was with labor and service laws. Hence the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) which deals with these disputes was founded in 1985 and was considered one of the initial flag bearers of administrative law in India. With the increased focus on sectoral adjudication there has been a mushrooming of quasi-judicial tribunals which deal with disputes in their specific domains. A tribunal which has been receiving its fair amount of the press is the Competition Appellate Tribunal (CAT) headed by former Supreme Court Justice Hon’ble Arijit Pasayat.

The latest CAT is the Cyber Appellate Tribunal. Even though the Information Technology Act had clear provisions on the establishment of the Cyber Appellate Tribunal way back in 2000 when it the enactment was notified, till recently the seat remained vacant. Only on July 27, 2009 was Hon’ble Justice Rajesh Tandon appointed as the Chairperson of the tribunal and it was christened (Hon’ble Justice R.C. Jain was appointed as the presiding officer way back in 2007 however no decisions came out till recently). A reason for the delay in appointment may have been the absence of litigation in this area of law. However, with the Tribunal releasing some decisions, it seems that litigation on the Information Technology is finally hotting up.

There are a total of 7 decisions rendered by the Cyber Appellate Tribunal which have been posted on the Ministry of Information Technology website (caveat – 6 of the 7 arise from the same bundle of facts). These decisions reveal certain trends and projections which may define the scope of adjudication in this young and growing tribunal. As most tribunals even the Cyber Appellate Tribunal seems to be going through its teething phases, tasting, chewing and rejecting various claims as to the extent of its jurisdiction. All the 7 decisions released have arguments and contentions which have arguments on jurisdiction contained in them. Out of the 7 appeals, 1 is remanded back to the adjudicating officer and the other group of 6 are dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. They are dismissed on the ground that the Appellants filed an original complaint with the tribunal, when the tribunal sits only as a court of appeal. Another issue which comes out quite glaringly is that the Appellate tribunal seems to be quite particular as to the parties which are arraigned. Most of these issues should be decided through discussion with the legal counsel at the stage of filing of the original complaint itself (original complaints are filed with the Adjudicating Officer which has been appointed in each state). Another issue with the 6 appeals which were dismissed was that some of them made the Controller of Certifying Authorities a party even though there were no complaints relating to electronic signatures.

I fail to gather how they can make such a complaint when the function of the controller is limited to regulating other certifying authorities and electronic signatures. I have prepared a table containing the decisions, which list the facts, issues and decisions of all the 7 appeals. They are available at the following link. You can download it here. They are also embbeded below.

p.s. I have not written on the blackberry story because of the complete lack of clarity on it. Everyday there are conflicting media reports and statements by the government regarding the device. I promise to go fishing when the storm dies down.