The Provisions of the Army, Navy and Air Force Acts did not provide for appeal against verdicts of courts-martial which were the first and last courts of adjudication in criminal matters. The only judicial remedy against courts-martial verdicts for service personnel was to invoke the extraordinary writ jurisdiction of the Constitutional Courts of the country. But writ courts, as against ordinary appellate courts, have only a limited power of judicial review as they cannot appreciate evidence and go into the factual matrix of the case or decide on the quantum of punishment awarded by a court martial.
The Concept of an Armed Forces Tribunal was very much in existence right from the day the Constitution of india came into force. But it appears that it escaped the notice of the Legislature till they were made aware of it. At the time of enactment of the Army Act and the Air Force Act, in 1950, though Parliament did debate the need of an Appellate Court, it provide for an in-house non-judicial review of courts-martial proceedings by way of pre-confirmation and post-confirmation petitions. In 1994, the Judge Advocate General mooted a proposal for setting up a Review Board to hear appeals against courts- martial verdicts, which was turned down. In 1957, when the Navy Act was passed by Parliament, a provision was incorporated for a mandatory judicial review by the Judge Advocate General ( Navy ) , with opportunity of personal hearing of the accused or his counsel. In 1960, a private member bill in the Lok Sabha , seeking amendment in the Army Act to provide for an opportunity for appeal against courts-martial decisions did not succeed.
There was thus no forum provide for redressal of grievances of the Armed Forces except to approach the Supreme Court and High Courts by filling a petition under Article 32 or 226 of the Constitution. For the first time it was realised by the Apex Court , in the case Lt Col Prithipal Singh Bedi v. Union of india & others that an appropiate alternative forum should be provided by legislation to ventilate the grivances of the Armed Forces. In 1992, the Parliamentary Estimate Committee, in its 19th Report, suggested setting up an Independent Appellate Board or Tribunal for service personnal. A similar report was made in its 169th report but to no avail. After two decades, the Supreme court had to draw attention of the Government and Parliament towards this glaring lacuna in the military justice system, in the case of Union of india V. CS Gill, in 2000. It still took nearly another decade to pass the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, in 2007 and actually set up the Tribunals. Besides above aspect of the matter, it was also taken into consideration that many of the armed forces personnel work in far flung areas and in a way the justice delivery system is inaccessible to them. Even if they have genuine grivances, it is considerably difficuly for them to directly approach the judicial system. Therefore, itbecame necessary to create a specialized forum wherein their interests would be accounted for while at the same time maintaining the prestige of the armed forces. It is with this view in mind that Armed Forces Tribunal was conceived of.