Tuesday, January 12, 2010

[rti_india] CJI office comes under RTI Act, rules Delhi HC


CJI office comes under RTI Act, rules Delhi HC


Says There's Nothing Confidential About Other Judges


Abhinav Garg |TNN



New Delhi: In an unusual display of checks and balances within the judiciary, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday rejected the contention of the Supreme Court that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is beyond the ambit of Right to Information Act.

A full Bench of the high court comprising Chief Justice A P Shah, Justice Vikramjit Sen and Justice S Muralidhar unanimously dispelled the fear raised by the apex court that the extension of RTI to the CJI's office would undermine judicial independence.

Referring to a resolution adopted by Supreme Court judges in 1997, a resolution adopted by a conference of chief justices in 1999 and the UN-sponsored 2001 Bangalore Principles of judicial conduct, the HC said: "Well-defined and publicly known standards and procedures complement, rather than diminish, the notion of judicial independence.''

The court disagreed with the SC plea that information pertaining to other judges is confidential in nature and so cannot be made public. "The declarations are not furnished to the CJI in a private relationship or as a trust, but in discharge of the constitutional obligation to maintain higher standards and probity of judicial life and are in the larger public interest.''

Dismissing the SC's appeal for the second time in four months, the court said: "Higher the judiciary, higher the accountability.'' Tuesday's verdict upheld the path-breaking ruling made in September 2009 by Justice Ravindra Bhatt.

SC will move SC against HC verdict

Moily Voices Concern On Judicial Independence

New Delhi: Unhappy with the Delhi High Court's judgment that the office of the CJI comes under the ambit of RTI, Supreme Court has decided to file an appeal before itself. Echoing the SC's position, law minister Veerappa Moily expressed concern about the fallout of the high court verdict on judicial independence.

The appeal is to be filed by the Chief Public Information officer of the apex court. The views of the CJI on this are well known. He had on Monday stressed the need to balance right to information with the concern for independence of judiciary. Citing international parallels, he had said some functions of the judiciary are exempt from right to information the world over.

The HC verdict came in the context of the prolonged controversy over whether the declarations of assets made by judges should be put in the public domain. The HC pointed out that as far as subordinate judges are concerned, they have for long been required to declare assets year after year in terms of the rules governing their conditions of service. "As regards accountability and independence, it cannot possibly be contended that a judicial magistrate at the entry level in the judicial hierarchy is any less accountable or independent than a judge of the high court or the Supreme Court," HC said.

In the process, HC ruled in favour of RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, who had filed the plea seeking to know if SC judges were disclosing their assets to the CJI.

"Democracy expects openness, and openness is concomitant of free society,'' the three judges observed in the 88-page verdict, reminding the petitioners — the Supreme Court — that 'sunlight is the best disinfectant'. The court added that accountability of the judiciary can't be seen in isolation. "Behind this notion is a concept that the wielders of power — legislative, executive and judicial — are entrusted to perform their functions on condition that they account for their stewardship to the people.''

The other distinction sought to be made by the A-G — that asset declaration is a personal rather than a public information — was also discarded.

The HC said it was aware of the 'increasing expectation of civil society that the judicial organ, like all public institutions, will also offer itself for public scrutiny', and went on to briefly dwell on international consensus in this regard. "Income and asset disclosure is generally perceived to be an essential aid towards monitoring whether judges perform outside work, conflict of interests, discouraging corruption and encouraging adherence to standards of judicial code of conduct.

Tuesday's verdict came on an appeal filed by the apex court which challenged the order of a single judge of the high court on September 2, 2009, holding that the CJI is a public authority and his office falls within the purview of the RTI Act.



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