The Indian Supreme Court passed a historic judgment today to uphold the Delhi High Court's decision that paved the way for right to information (RTI) to be applicable to the office of the chief justice.
The court held that the office is a public authority under the Right to Information Act, reports live law.
"Transparency does not undermine judicial independence. Judicial independence and accountability go hand in hand. Disclosure is a facet of public interest", said Justice Sanjiv Khanna who wrote the majority opinion on behalf of the bench. Justices Ramana and Chandrachud wrote separate but concurring judgments.
The Court asked the information commissioner to apply a test of proportionality while entertaining applications seeking information from CJI's office, keeping in mind right to privacy and independence of the judiciary.
"Right to privacy and the right to information go hand in hand. None can take precedence over the other", said Justice Ramana concurring with Justice Khanna's opinion.
"The judiciary must be protected from surveillance. RTI can be used as a tool for keeping an eye on the judiciary", Justice Ramana added.
Judicial independence does not entail preclusion from the rule of law, observed Justice Chandrachud.
The information about assets of judges does not constitute personal information and cannot be exempted from RTI. Judiciary cannot function in total isolation as judges enjoy the constitutional post and discharge the public duty, added Justice Chandrachud.
The Constitution bench comprising of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices NV Ramana, DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna had heard the appeal.
Three-Judge bench of Delhi High Court comprising the then Chief Justice A P Shah, Justice Vikramjeet Sen and Justice S Muralidhar had upheld the single bench judgment that Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of India have statutory duty to furnish the information sought by citizens regarding the functioning and administration of the Supreme Court. The single bench had dismissed the challenge against the order of Central Information Commission whereby it had directed the Supreme Court CPIO to provide the information requested by Subhash Chandra Agarwal for the supply of information concerning the declaration of personal assets by the Judges of the Supreme Court.
These appeals, though filed in the year 2010, were referred to the Constitution bench only in August 2016 by a three-judge bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi. The bench also referred the following questions formulated by a bench of Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice SS Nijjar along with the appeals.
Whether the concept of independence of judiciary requires and demands the prohibition of furnishing of the information sought? Whether the information sought for amounts to interference in the functioning of the judiciary?
Whether the information sought for cannot be furnished to avoid any erosion in the credibility of the decisions and to ensure free and frank expression of honest opinion by all the constitutional functionaries, which is essential for effective consultation and for making the right decision?
Whether the information sought for is exempt under Section 8(i)(j) of the Right to Information Act?