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A tribunal in the general sense is any person or institution with the authority to judge, adjudicate on, or determine claims or disputes—whether or not it is called a tribunal in its title. For example, an advocate appearing before a court on which a single judge was sitting could describe that judge as 'their tribunal'. Many governmental bodies that are titled 'tribunals' are so described to emphasize the fact that they are not courts of normal jurisdiction. For example, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is a body specially constituted under international law; in Great Britain, Employment Tribunals are bodies set up to hear specific employment disputes. Private judicial bodies are also often styled 'tribunals'. The word 'tribunal' is not conclusive of a body's function. For example, in Great Britain, the Employment Appeal Tribunal is a superior court of record.
The term is originally derived from the tribunes, magistrates of the Classical Roman Republic. "Tribunal" originally referred to the office of the tribunes, and the term is still sometimes used in this sense in historical writings.
In the Republic of Ireland, the word tribunal is popularly used to refer to a public inquiry established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. The main difference between a Parliamentary Inquiry (non statutory) and a Tribunal of Inquiry in Ireland is that non-statutory inquiries are not vested with the powers, privileges and rights of the High Court; Tribunals of Inquiry are. Tribunals are established by resolution of the Houses of the Oireachtas to enquire into matters of urgent public importance. It is not a function of Tribunals to administer justice, their work is solely inquisitorial. Tribunals are obliged to report their findings to the Oireachtas. They have the power to enforce the attendance and examination of witnesses and the production of documents relevant to the work in hand. Tribunals can consist of one or more people. A layperson, or non lawyer, may be the Sole member of an Tribunal.
The tribunal system of the United Kingdom is part the national system of administrative justice. Though it has grown up on an ad hoc basis since the beginning of the twentieth century, from 2007 reforms were put in place to build a unified system with recognised judicial authority, routes of appeal and regulatory supervision.
Historically in the Netherlands before the separation of lawmaking, law enforcement, and justice duties, all sentences were made by a tribunal of 7 schepenen or magistrates, appointed by the local count. Such a tribunal was called a Vierschaar, so called for the four-square dimensions of the sitting judges. Most towns had the Vierschaar privilege to hear their own disputes. The Vierschaar was usually located in the town hall, and many historic town halls still have such a room, usually decorated with scenes from the Judgment of Solomon.
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The following tribunals exist within the Judiciary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China: Lands, Small Claims, Labour, Obscene Articles. For public inquiries, commissions would be set up instead under the Commissions of Inquiry Ordinance.
In the Roman Catholic Church, a tribunal usually refers to literally one of three instances of ecclesiastical courts: (1) a diocesan tribunal (2) a provincial tribunal, that is, of more than one diocese and commonly referred to as an appellate court (3) the Sacra Rota Romana, or Sacred Roman Rota, the highest court of appeals.
"Tribunal" is used in the U.S. generally to refer to courts or judicial bodies, as in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, for instance, define "tribunal" as "a court, an arbitrator in a binding arbitration, or a legislative body, administrative agency, or other body acting in an adjudicative capacity."
In Bangladesh, the word "tribunal" is used to refer the court which are formed for some special purposes. There are several tribunals in Bangladesh. These have been set up to ensure speedy trial and to reduce the congestion of the cases in the normal courts. Beside this, Article 117 of the Constitution Of The People's Republic of Bangladesh empowers the parliament to set up one or more administrative tribunals by law. No court can entertain any proceeding or make any order in respect of any matter falling within the jurisdiction of such tribunal.