10 Oct 2009

Chief Justice of India covered under RTI? Matter posted to Larger Bench of Delhi High Court

We had earlier covered the decision of the Single Judge of the Delhi High Court declaring that the institution of the Chief Justice of India was also covered under the wide ambit of the Right to Information Act and therefore the information sought from the Chief Justice's office could not be denied. Even though the information demanded from the Chief in that case has been supplied, the Supreme Court has now challenged the validity of the said decision in appeal. 

In face even before the decision had been rendered, we had pondered in an earlier post that inevitably the matter would reach the Supreme Court and it would be there that one witness the anomaly of judicial process; while the fundamental principle of natural justice is that one should not adjudge its own case, in this case the Supreme Court being the final court of appeal would be required to adjudge upon the position of its own Chief Justice. 

In any case now, it is quiet curious to note that even though the information has been supplied, the appeal is limited to the question of law i.e. whether the office of Chief Justice of India required to supply information (of whatsoever kind) sought from it under the Right to Information Act. The matter was argued by none less than the first legal officer of the country, the Attorney General of India and after hearing the arguments, Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court (who was presiding the court) referred the matter for decision for a larger bench of the court, noting that important legal question are involved which seemingly required a consideration by a larger bench of the High Court. Have a look at the referral decision.

What is intriguing to note is that the stay application against the Single Judge order was dismissed for not being pressed by the Government. This technically means that the order of the Single Judge is still alive and kicking and binding on all lower authorities. An applicant, therefore, till the pendency of the appeal before the larger bench of the High Court, can seek refuge in the decision of the Single Judge and demand that information under the Right to Information Act be supplied by the office of the Chief Justice of India. However given the firm stand adopted by the highest court on its not being amenable to the Act, on a practical stand one can only guess whether the information would be supplied at all. 

Nonetheless it is curious to note that while the Right to Information Act covers almost all constitutional functionaries, the Chief Justice of India has all along maintained that his office is not. And now whatever may be the outcome of the appeal before the High Court, the unsuccessful party is certainly expected to take the matter is further appeal to the Supreme Court and the matter would become even more curious then. So one can only wait and watch anticipating an interesting battle of legal wits and the practicalities motivating them. 

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