Ruling against judicial transparency
In its recent decision, in the Chief Information Commissioner v. High Court of Gujarat case, the Supreme Court, regrettably, barred citizens from securing access to court records under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Instead, the court held that such records can be accessed only through the rules laid down by each High Court under Article 225 of the Constitution.
Though the particular decision taken earlier this month does not preclude the application of the RTI Act to the administrative side of the court, it does firmly slam the door shut on accessing, under the RTI Act, the millions of court records filed on the judicial side.
Why are court records important?
- Every prosecution before a criminal court is essentially an opportunity to hold the police accountable just as every writ petition is an opportunity to hold the government accountable.
- A significant number of commercial lawsuits are opportunities to learn more about corporations and the manner in which commercial translations are executed in the country.
- In all of these cases, the pleadings filed by either party contain reams of information that are useful to a range of stakeholders such as citizens, journalists, academics, shareholders, etc., who can better inform the public discourse on the ramifications of these decisions.
Argument of the court –
- First, it concludes that there is no inconsistency between the RTI Act and the court rules. This is factually incorrect because the Gujarat High Court Rules unlike the RTI Act require the submission of an affidavit stating the purpose of seeking copies of the pleadings.
- Second, the court argues that, “A special enactment or rule cannot be held to be overridden by a later general enactment simply because the latter opens up with a non-obstante clause, unless there is clear inconsistency between the two legislations.”
- The third limb, of the court’s reasoning was its conclusion that Section 22 could not be read in a manner to imply repeal of other laws.
Arguments against the decision –
- The Supreme Court’s verdict in this case hinged on Section 22 of the RTI Act which states that the RTI Act shall override any other law to the extent that the latter is inconsistent with the former.
- With respect to the first argument, the RTI Act requires no reasons to be provided while seeking information.
- With respect to the second and third reasoning, the court has made the non-obstante clause redundant.
- Most High Courts and the Supreme Court require physical filing of an application with the Registry, and a hearing before a judge to determine whether records should be given. it becomes a logistical nightmare for citizens to file an application with the Registry.
In today’s world where every public institution is striving to become more transparent, the continued resistance from the judiciary to making itself transparent in a meaningful manner will have an eroding effect on its legitimacy.
Source – The Hindu
QUESTION – The recent ruling of the Supreme Court in the Chief Information Commissioner v. High Court of Gujarat case is a blow to transparency in judiciary. Examine the arguments in light of the case.