Supreme Court tells Supreme Court to shield Supreme Court from RTI

Supreme Court tells Supreme Court to shield Supreme Court from RTI

Murali Krishnan

The hearing in the case concerning applicability of Right to Information Act (RTI Act) to the office of Chief Justice of India commenced in the Supreme Court today.

Attorney General KK Venugopal appeared and argued for the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Supreme Court who is the appellant in the case.

Arguing before a Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, Venugopal argued on three cases which the Court is considering together.

The three cases are:

  • Demand for correspondence between Collegium and government.
  • Declaration of assets of judges to be brought under RTI.
  • Disclosure of the name of Union Minister who allegedly tried to influence Justice Raghupathy of Madras High Court.

The following questions of law are being considered by the Supreme Court in this regard?

  • Whether the office of Chief Justice of India would come within the ambit of the RTI Act
  • Whether the communications between Collegium and Govt and file noting of the Collegium would be covered under the RTI Act?

Some of the arguments by the Attorney General were as follows:

On SP Gupta judgment

Venugopal cited the SP Gupta case, which had considered the question related to disclosure of the correspondence between the Law Minister, the Chief Justice of Delhi and the Chief Justice of India regarding non-appointment of two lawyers as additional Judges.

He tried to distinguish the SP Gupta judgment on various grounds. He submitted that the judgment in SP Gupta case did not delve into whether disclosure of information relating to the appointment of Judges will undermine Judicial independence.

Further, it was his argument that the reference to the Right to Know and Article 19(1)(a) in that judgment was in the passing. The judgment was pronounced at a time when the Right to Information Act had not yet been enacted.

The decision of the Supreme Court in the SP Gupta case which favoured disclosure of information relating to appointment of Judges does not apply now on account of enactment of the RTI Act, he submitted.

He also contended that the independence of the judiciary is part of the Basic Structure and even while deciding issues relating to the RTI Act, the Court has to keep in mind the various constitutional provisions.

On exemptions under Section 8 of the RTI Act

Venugopal placed extensive reliance on Section 8 of the RTI Act relating to information which is exempted from disclosure under the Act.

“The correspondence between Collegium and Govt would be exempted under Section 8(1)(j). Information relating to disclosure of assets of judges will be exempt under Section 8(1) (e) and (j) of RTI Act”, he argued.

Disclosure of Collegium information could humiliate judge, damage the institution

Regarding the disclosure of correspondence between Collegium and government, the AG told that the said documents were those which belonged to the Collegium. The RTI request pertained to why certain judges were superseded by the Collegium for elevation to the Supreme Court.

File noting in relation to the same deal with a third party (superseded judge) and making it available under RTI will affect the third party personally. It will result in the humiliation of the concerned judge, he contended.

“File noting by Collegium in this regard could have adverse information against a judge, its disclosure will hurt the person who is overlooked. Such disclosures will result in him being humiliated. His family will stand ostracised, worst of all his independence will be affected. His entire career will be ruined as public and lawyers will lose confidence in him”

It will affect his independence and consequently the independence of the judiciary, Venugopal continued. The information relating to why judges were over looked is not in the nature of public information. It belongs to a class of information which goes to the root of independence of the judiciary, submitted AG.

“If information concerning Collegium functioning is put in public domain, great damage will be done to the institution”, Venugopal said.

Disclosure of Assets of judges

Regarding the disclosure of assets, it was Venugopal’s submission that the same is personal information and affects the privacy of judges.

“However, it is a matter best left to Your Lordships on whether such information should be disclosed in the interest of greater public interest”, Venugopal added.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

Read the order below. 

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