12 Jan 2010

High Court decides against Supreme Court: Chief Justice of India covered under RTI

In what can really be described as a breaking news for the legal circles, the High Court Delhi in a larger bench (headed by its Chief Justice itself) has rejected the appeal of the Supreme Court involving none else that the Chief Justice of India. In an earlier post we had reported that the Supreme Court had filed an appeal against the decision of the Single Judge wherein it had been declared that the office of Chief Justice of India falls under the purview of the Right to Information Act. A few hours ago the larger bench of the High Court has upheld this decision. 

Running over 88 pages, the decision authored by the Chief Justice of the High Court himself,  the Bench referred to various international conventions on the issue and holding the right to information even as a constitutional right affirmed the decision of the Single Judge. The High Court inter alia held as under;

We find ourselves in full agreement with the reasoning set out in the impugned judgment. The expression “public authority” as used in the Act is of wide amplitude and includes an authority created by or under the Constitution of India, which description holds good for Chief Justice of India. While providing for Competent Authorities under Section 2(e), the Act specifies Chief Justice of India as one such authority in relation to Supreme Court, also conferring upon him the powers to frame rules to carry out the purposes of the said law. Chief Justice of India besides discharging the prominent role of “head of judiciary” also performs a multitude of tasks specifically assigned to him under the Constitution or various enactments. As said in the impugned judgment, these varied roles of the CJI are directly relatable to the fact that he holds the office of Chief Justice of India and heads the Supreme Court. In absence of any indication that the office of the CJI is a separate establishment with its own Public Information Office under the Act, it cannot be canvassed that the office of the CPIO of the Supreme Court is different from the office of the CJI.

Discussing on the aspect of judicial independence being the fulcrum of the legal system, the Larger Bench observed,
Judicial independence is not the personal privilege or prerogative of the individual Judge. It is the responsibility imposed on each Judge to enable him or her to adjudicate a dispute honestly and impartially on the basis of the law and the evidence. The very existence of the justice delivery system depends on the Judges, who, for the time being, constitute the system. The greatest strength of the judiciary is the faith people repose in it. The constitutional rights, statutory rights, human rights and natural rights need to be protected and implemented. Such protection and implementation depends on the proper administration of justice, which in its turn depends on the existence and accessibility of an independent judiciary. Public confidence in the administration of justice is imperative for its effectiveness, because ultimately ready acceptance of a judicial verdict alone gives relevance to the judicial system.

The Bench also repelled the contention of the Attorney General of India to hold that the Chief Justice of India does not hold the information given by the other judges of the Supreme Court in fiduciary capacity. The Bench observed;
The CJI cannot be a fiduciary vis-à-vis Judges of the Supreme Court. The Judges of the Supreme Court hold independent office, and there is no hierarchy, in their judicial functions, which places them at a different plane than the CJI. 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. In these circumstances, it cannot be held that the asset information shared with the CJI, by the Judges of the Supreme Court, are held by him in the capacity of fiduciary, which if directed to be revealed, would result in breach of such duty.

Being of this view, the High Court concluded as under;
It was Edmund Burke who observed that “All persons possessing a portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust.” Accountability of the Judiciary cannot be seen in isolation. It must be viewed in the context of a general trend to render governors answerable to the people in ways that are transparent, accessible and effective. 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 who authorize them to exercise such power. Well defined and publicly known standards and procedures complement, rather than diminish, the notion of judicial independence. Democracy expects openness and openness is concomitant of free society. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

No comments: