9 Nov 2009

Information on criminal complaints can be sought under RTI: Delhi High Court

In a recent decision, Justice Sanjiv Khanna of the Delhi High Court has dismissed the writ petition filed by a person against the order of the Central Information Commission. In its order the Commission had directed the Police to provide the information relating to all criminal complaints and pending matters against the person. It was argued that the Commission by allowing such information had made an unwarranted invasion in his right of privacy. The High Court, however, was not impressed and the petition was dismissed.

Relying upon a decision of Supreme Court, the High Court observed that the right to privacy was not an absolute right and that the right to information was a part of Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. In reference to Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, which recognises the exception of privacy to the grant of information, the High Court observed that the said provision "recognizes that both rights are important and require protection and in case of conflict between the two rights, the test of over-riding public interest is applied to decide whether information should be withheld or disclosed."

The High Court also agreed to the 'test of public interest' applied by the Commission 'to determine and decide whether the information sought should be disclosed or disclosure will amount to unwarranted invasion of right to privacy.' Also noting the fact that the information sought being related "to criminal complaints filed against the petitioner, FIRs registered against him, their current status and whether warrants were issued against some persons, police reports on execution of warrants and their current status", it was already "part of public records including court records". 

The decision of the Supreme Court in Raj Gopal v. State of Andhra Pradesh (1994) 6 SCC 632 was also relied upon where it was held as under;

(1) A citizen has a right to safeguard the privacy of his own, his family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, childbearing and education among other matters.
(2) None can publish anything concerning the above matters without his consent – whether truthful or otherwise and whether laudatory or critical. If he does so, he would be violating the right to privacy of the person concerned. But a publication concerning the above aspects becomes unobjectionable, if such publication is based upon public records including court records. Once something becomes a matter of public record, the right of privacy no longer exists. The only exception to this could be in the interest of decency.
(3) In the case of public officials, it is obvious that right of privacy or for that matter, remedy of action for damages is simply not available with respect to their acts and conducts relevant to the discharge of their official duties. This is so even where the publication is based upon the acts and statements that are not true unless the official establishes that the publication was made with reckless disregard for truth.
(4) So far as the Government, local authority or other organization and institution exercising governmental power are concerned, they cannot maintain suit for damages for defaming them.

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