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CJI to come under RTI: SC

  Jul 07, 2020

CJI to come under RTI: SC

Why in news?

The Delhi High Court had on Jan 10, 2010, ruled that the CJI’s office was under the ambit of the RTI. Independence of the judiciary was not a privilege but a responsibility cast upon the office, the High Court had ruled. The Supreme Court information officer had challenged this on the judicial side in the top court. In November 2019 supreme court’s five-judge constitution bench delivered judgment to bring CJI under ambit of RTI.

What are observations of supreme court during judgement that brought CJI within definition of “public authority” under the RTI Act, 2005?

  1. The independence and accountability go hand in hand and that independence of the judiciary can't be ensured only by denying information.
  2. Court agreed in principle to share information but on a case-to-case basis and subject to RTI safeguards.
  3.  Court observed that there should be a balance between RTI and privacy, and that information-seeking should be calibrated.
  4. Justice DY Chandrachud said the principal consideration should be public interest and that judges are not above the law. He said the Information Officer should weigh competing claims and decide.
  5. The Court further noted that while independence of the judiciary forms part of the basic structure of the Constitution, bringing the office of the CJI under the RTI Act would not undermine the independence of the judiciary. 
  6. Transparency doesn’t undermine judicial independency court observed.
  7. However, the Court stressed that when public interest demands the disclosure of information, judicial independence must be kept in mind.
  8. Confidentiality and right to privacy have to be maintained and court added that RTI can’t be used for as a tool of surveillance

Why do we need to bring SC under RTI?

  1. Judicial independence does not mean that judiciary is free from public scrutiny.
  2. Judicial independence is not the independence from accountability. Independence of judiciary means it has to be independent from the executive and not independent from common public. People are entitled to know as to what public authorities are doing.
  3. The deliberations of the collegium in appointing and overlooking judges or lawyers should be made public and information can be parted with under RTI on case-to-case basis keeping in mind the larger public interest.
  4. Failure to bring about accountability reforms would erode trust in the court’s impartiality, harming core judicial functions. Further, it also harms the broader accountability function that the judiciary is entrusted within democratic systems including upholding citizens’ rights and sanctioning representatives of other branches when they act in contravention of the law. 
  5. Transparency and the right to information are crucially linked to the rule of law itself. There is a fallacy about the postulate that independence and accountability are conflicting values.

What are the implications of judgement?

The assets and acts of the judiciary will be subject to public scrutiny under the Right to Information Act, 2005. Correspondence between the government and the judiciary on important issues such as the appointment of judges by the collegium, or, say, between a political authority and a judge with respect to a certain case may now find its way into the public domain. As Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has observed, the disclosures will be circumscribed by the right to privacy. Court also said only names of judges recommended by the collegium can be disclosed, not the reasons.

What is problem with present judgement?

The present judgment specifically mentions that marks obtained, grades and answer sheets, professional records, qualification, performance, evaluation reports, ACRs, disciplinary proceedings, assets, liabilities, income tax returns, details of investments, lending and borrowing, etc. are personal information. Such personal information is entitled to protection from unwarranted invasion of privacy and conditional access is available only when stipulation of larger public interest is satisfied.

However, in R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu judgment the Supreme Court declared a clearly that on matters of public records no claim for privacy would sustain unless it was violative of ‘decency or morality’. Clearly professional records assets liabilities are not covered in ‘decency and morality’, hence these must be disclosed.