What Is the Difference Between a Tribunal and a Court?

A tribunal is an assembly of people with special knowledge about a subject who are called to resolve a dispute. It is usually less formal and faster than a judge and jury trial.

Tribunals exist in parallel to the traditional court system, but they are not part of it. Tribunals are usually assembled when there is no court with jurisdiction over a specific issue, such as with war crimes. The United Nations frequently appoints tribunals to hear international matters because there is no court that has jurisdiction over world matters.

Another major difference between courts and tribunals is that, with the exception of the members of the Supreme Court, who are appointed, judges are typically elected officials in the United States. Tribunal members are usually appointed as a result of their knowledge or experience with the issue that the tribunal is attempting to resolve. Judges, by contrast, are individuals with general knowledge about the law. Tribunals are faster, less expensive options to a traditional judge and jury trial because they do not involve a jury selection process. Rather, a tribunal acts as both judge and jury in a tribunal proceeding. A tribunal is typically a panel of people, although it does not have to be so by definition.