Court vs. Tribunal

What's the Difference?

Court and tribunal are both legal institutions that serve as forums for resolving disputes and administering justice. However, there are some key differences between the two. Courts are typically established by the government and are presided over by judges who have the authority to interpret and apply the law. They handle a wide range of cases, including criminal, civil, and administrative matters. On the other hand, tribunals are specialized bodies that are set up to deal with specific areas of law or particular types of disputes. They are often composed of experts in the relevant field and provide a more informal and accessible alternative to courts. While courts have a more formal and adversarial process, tribunals tend to have a more flexible and inquisitorial approach.


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JurisdictionHas jurisdiction over a wide range of cases, including criminal, civil, and administrative matters.Has jurisdiction over specific types of cases, such as labor disputes, human rights violations, or specialized areas.
StructureTypically has a hierarchical structure with multiple levels, including trial courts, appellate courts, and supreme courts.May have a more specialized or simplified structure, often consisting of a single level or limited levels of adjudication.
Decision-MakingDecisions are made by judges or panels of judges, who interpret and apply the law.Decisions are made by adjudicators or tribunals members, who apply specific laws or regulations related to their area of expertise.
Adversarial ProcessGenerally follows an adversarial process, where opposing parties present their cases and arguments before the court.May follow an inquisitorial or less adversarial process, where the tribunal actively investigates and gathers evidence.
Legal RepresentationParties involved in a court case can be represented by legal counsel.Legal representation may or may not be allowed, depending on the specific tribunal and its rules.
AppealsAllows for appeals to higher courts, providing an opportunity for review and potential reversal of decisions.May or may not allow for appeals, depending on the tribunal's jurisdiction and the applicable laws.
Public AccessCourt proceedings are generally open to the public, ensuring transparency and accountability.Public access may vary depending on the tribunal, with some proceedings being open and others being closed or limited.
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Further Detail


When it comes to legal proceedings, two terms that often come up are "court" and "tribunal." While both are institutions that administer justice, there are distinct differences between the two. In this article, we will explore the attributes of courts and tribunals, highlighting their unique characteristics and functions.

Definition and Purpose

A court is a legal institution that has the authority to hear and resolve disputes, enforce laws, and administer justice. It is typically established by the government and operates within a formal judicial system. Courts handle a wide range of cases, including criminal, civil, and administrative matters.

A tribunal, on the other hand, is a specialized body that is created to resolve specific types of disputes or issues. It is often established by legislation and operates outside the traditional court system. Tribunals focus on specific areas of law, such as employment, immigration, tax, or human rights. Their purpose is to provide a more accessible and efficient alternative to courts for resolving certain types of disputes.

Composition and Structure

Courts are typically composed of judges who are appointed or elected based on their legal expertise and experience. The number of judges can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the level of the court. Higher-level courts often have multiple judges, while lower-level courts may have a single judge presiding over cases.

Tribunals, on the other hand, are usually composed of members who have specialized knowledge in the area of law that the tribunal deals with. These members, often referred to as tribunal judges or adjudicators, may include legal professionals, experts in the field, or individuals with relevant experience. Unlike courts, tribunals may have a panel of members rather than a single judge presiding over cases.

Procedure and Rules of Evidence

Courts follow formal procedures and rules of evidence, which are designed to ensure fairness and protect the rights of the parties involved. These procedures include the presentation of evidence, examination and cross-examination of witnesses, and adherence to strict rules of courtroom conduct. Courts also follow the principle of precedent, where decisions made in higher courts serve as binding authority for lower courts.

Tribunals, on the other hand, often have more flexible procedures and rules of evidence. They are not bound by the strict formalities of courts and can adopt a more informal approach. Tribunals may allow for more relaxed rules of evidence, allowing for the admission of expert reports or other forms of evidence that may not be admissible in a court setting. However, this flexibility does not compromise the fundamental principles of fairness and justice.

Appeals and Judicial Review

Courts have the power to hear appeals from lower courts and tribunals. The appellate courts review the decisions made by lower courts and have the authority to overturn or modify those decisions if they find errors in law or procedure. This process ensures that the law is applied consistently and that justice is served.

Tribunals, on the other hand, may have their decisions subject to judicial review by the courts. Judicial review is a process where a court examines the legality and fairness of a decision made by a tribunal. If the court finds that the decision was made outside the tribunal's jurisdiction, was procedurally unfair, or was irrational, it may quash or modify the decision. This provides a mechanism for ensuring that tribunals act within their legal boundaries and adhere to the principles of natural justice.

Accessibility and Specialization

Courts are generally accessible to the public and handle a wide range of cases. They are equipped to deal with complex legal issues and have the authority to enforce their decisions. However, the formalities and procedures of courts can sometimes make them intimidating and less accessible to individuals without legal representation.

Tribunals, on the other hand, are often designed to be more accessible and user-friendly. They are specialized in specific areas of law, which allows them to develop expertise and knowledge in those areas. This specialization enables tribunals to provide more focused and efficient resolution of disputes, often with less formality and at a lower cost. Tribunals also tend to have more relaxed rules regarding legal representation, allowing individuals to present their cases without the need for a lawyer.


In conclusion, courts and tribunals are both essential components of the legal system, each with its own distinct attributes and functions. Courts are formal institutions that handle a wide range of cases and follow strict procedures and rules of evidence. Tribunals, on the other hand, are specialized bodies that focus on specific areas of law, providing a more accessible and efficient alternative to courts. While courts and tribunals serve different purposes, they both play a crucial role in ensuring justice is served and disputes are resolved in a fair and impartial manner.

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