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ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government has planned to restructure the Federal Service Tribunal (FST) in order to reduce burden on high courts and the Supreme Court.

The proposal to empower the FST to hear appeals against orders related to service petitions is among the 100-day agenda of the Ministry of Law and Justice.

The FST was constituted under Article 212 of the Constitution to adjudicate upon matters relating to the terms and conditions of civil servants.

Restructuring of tribunal aims at reducing burden on high courts and Supreme Court

The primary objective of the establishment of the tribunal was to provide an independent and autonomous forum for adjudication of disputes relating to government employees. The tribunal has its headquarters in Islamabad with two camp offices in Lahore and Karachi. Headed by a chairman, the FST members, who are experienced administrators, district and sessions judges or senior advocates of high courts, are appointed by the president.

At present, a civil servant can only file a petition against an adverse order by their respective departments or ministries. Since the existing law is apparently not sufficient to redress grievances of civil servants and employees working in corporations and autonomous bodies, they approach high courts for relief.

While the FST has no appellate jurisdiction, the government servants or the federal government file appeals against the tribunal’s orders in the Supreme Court.

Clause 3 of Article 212 says: “An appeal to the Supreme Court from a judgment, decree, order or sentence of an administrative court or tribunal shall lie only if the Supreme Court, being satisfied that the case involves a substantial question of law of public importance, grants leave to appeal.”

According to Federal Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem, the government has proposed an amendment to the FST Act to empower the tribunal to hear appeals as well. Mr Naseem said FST’s jurisdiction would be expanded and there would be two jurisdictions of the tribunal - original and appellate.

The FST will entertain routine service petitions under its original jurisdiction. A judgment, decree and order of sentence of the FST will be challenged in the tribunal.

Such a mechanism is already in place in the high courts where a two-member division bench hears an appeal against an order of a single-member bench.

The minister expressed the hope that by providing the right to appeal within the FST, the burden on the Supreme Court would be reduced since the grievance of the petitioner or the federal government would easily be addressed in the tribunal.

Currently, 4,456 cases are pending adjudication in the FST headquarters in Islamabad and its camp offices in Lahore and Karachi.

An official of the FST told Dawn that under the proposed amendment, the employees of corporations and autonomous bodies who approach the high courts may also file petitions in the FST since it is the inexpensive and speedy forum to seek justice in the service related matters.

The tribunal charges no fee from appellants/civil servants for filing appeals or other documents. However, a nominal amount of Rs100 as cash security and Rs60 per respondent as cost of service is charged out of which Rs100 are refundable.

Litigants are also allowed to argue their cases themselves without hiring the services of an advocate.

The official, however, said in case the law was amended, there would be a sharp increase in the number of cases and in order to decide these cases the sanctioned posts of members would have to be increased.

At present, there are 10 members in the FST, including the chairman. The Establishment Division has recently approved two more seats for the FST.

Lawyers who deal with FST cases termed the proposed amendment a positive development but some senior bureaucrats were of the opinion that it would be counterproductive since the FST members cannot take decisions as fair and with the same independence as judges of superior courts can do.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2018