Tribune News Service
New Delhi, November 13
Maintaining that judicial independence and accountability go hand in hand, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the Office of the Chief Justice of India fell within the ambit of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
A five-judge Constitution Bench, however, invoked “independence of judiciary” to qualify the ruling that came after a decade after the original order of the Central Information Commission directing the Supreme Court’s Secretary General to declare assets of judges. The CIC’s verdict was upheld by the Delhi High Court in 2010 leading to the dispute landing in the top court.
“When the public interest demands the disclosure of information, judicial independence has to be kept in mind while deciding the question of exercise of discretion,” said the Bench which also included Justice NV Ramana, Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Sanjiv Khanna which had reserved its verdict on April 4.
“However, we should not be understood to mean that the independence of the judiciary can be achieved only by denial of access to information. Independence in a given case may well demand openness and transparency by furnishing the information. Reference to the principle of judicial independence is not to undermine and avoid accountability which is an aspect we perceive and believe has to be taken into account while examining the public interest in favour of disclosure of information,” it said.
Upholding the January 12, 2010 verdict of the Delhi High Court, the Bench said, “Such disclosure would not, in any way, impinge upon the personal information and right to privacy of the judges. The fiduciary relationship rule in terms of clause (e) to Section 8(1) of the RTI Act is inapplicable.
“It would not affect the right to confidentiality of the judges and their right to protect personal information and privacy, which would be the case where details and contents of personal assets in the declaration are called for and sought, in which event the public interest test as applicable vide Section 8(1)(j) and proviso to Section 11 (1) of the RTI Act would come into operation.
But the top court made it clear that the reasons behind Collegium’s decision to recommend or not to recommend a candidate for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court or a high court would not be made public.
“The Information Officer must be cognisant that any determination under clause (j) of clause (1) of Section 8 implicates the right to information and the right to privacy as constitutional rights. Reason forms the heart of the law and the decision of the Information Officer must provide cogent and articulate reasons for the factors considered and conclusions arrived at in balancing the two interests.”
Noting that the type and nature of the information is a relevant factor while applying the proportionality test to take a call on parting with information under RTI Act, the Bench said, “Distinction must be drawn between the final opinion or resolutions passed by the collegium with regard to appointment/elevation and transfer of judges with observations and indicative reasons and the inputs/data or details which the collegium had examined.”
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