A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court has delivered a landmark judgment on the office of the Chief Justice of India by placing it under the Right to Information Act.
- In order to ensure the transparent functioning of the highest judicial office of the country, the Supreme Court bench in its judgment stated that the office of the Chief Justice of India is a ‘Public Authority’ under the RTI act.
- As Supreme Court is an institution of public authority, the office of the CJI which is a part and parcel of that institution is also a public authority and hence comes under the RTI Act.
- The Court also approved that there is no threat to judicial independence due to increased transparency under the RTI.
- One of the judges on the bench observed that “judicial independence is not secured by the secrecy of cloistered halls”.
- On a cautious note, one judge observed that the public reposes faith in the judiciary due to its independence. Thus, transparency to a certain extent must be calibrated with judicial independence.
- In a unanimous voice the bench has ruled that the right to know under RTI is not absolute.
- It stated that RTI must be balanced with the privacy of the individual judges.
- RTI should not be used as a tool for surveillance on the judges.
- Thus, the Court ruled that the personal information of the judges shall not be provided under RTI.
- Section 8(1)(j) under the RTI Act states that divulging personal information is in the discretionary power of the Public Information Officer (PIO).
- Also, the judgment has ruled that information about a judge’s assets, official communication during the times of elevation of judges must be treated as confidential third-party information and the PIO must act according to Section 11 of the RTI Act.
This a landmark judgment allowing for greater transparency in the functioning of the Judiciary. The judgment also tackled the privacy concerns of the judges. By not making RTI absolute, considerable caution has been taken and rightly so. At a time when, RTI, though a great tool for transparency, is being misused for witch-hunting. The judgment thus tackles all the issues amicably and paves the way for citizens getting information from the CJI office.