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Office of Chief Justice within RTI Act, rules SC, but conditions apply

Top court cautions that the Right to Information Act cannot be used as tool of surveillance

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

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The (SC) has held that the office of the is a public authority and falls within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

A five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, upheld the 2010 Delhi High Court verdict and dismissed three appeals filed by Secretary General and the Central Public Information officer of the SC.

Cautioning that RTI cannot be used as a tool of surveillance, the top court in its judgment held that judicial independence has to be kept in mind while dealing with transparency. The Bench, also comprising Justices N V Ramana, D Y Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, said only the names of judges recommended by the Collegium for appointment can be disclosed, not the reasons. While the CJI and Justices Gupta and Khanna have penned one judgment, Justices Ramana and Chandrachud have written separate verdicts.

It said that the Right to Privacy is an important aspect and it has to be balanced with transparency while deciding to give out information from the office of the Chief Justice.

Justice Chandrachud, who wrote a separate judgment, said the judiciary cannot function in total insulation as Judges enjoy constitutional post and discharge public duty. Justice Khanna said independence of judiciary and transparency go hand in hand.

Justice Ramana, who concurred with Justice Khanna, said there should be balancing formula for right to privacy and right to transparency and independence of judiciary should be protected from breach.

The move to bring the office of the CJI under the transparency law was initiated by RTI activist S C Agrawal. His lawyer Prashant Bhushan had submitted in the SC that though the apex court should not have been judging its own cause, it is hearing the appeals due to “doctrine of necessity”.

The lawyer had described the reluctance of the judiciary in parting information under the as “unfortunate” and “disturbing”, asking: “Do judges inhabit different universe?” He had submitted that the apex court has always stood for transparency in functioning of other organs of state, but it develops cold feet when its own issues require attention.

The Delhi High Court on January 10, 2010, had held that the CJI office comes within the ambit of the RTI law, saying judicial independence was not a judge’s privilege, but a responsibility cast upon him.

The HC judgment was seen as a setback to the then CJI, K G Balakrishnan, who has been opposed to disclosure of information relating to judges under the The HC had dismissed a plea of the SC that contended bringing the CJI’s office within the would “hamper” judicial independence.

First Published: Wed, November 13 2019. 22:13 IST