Thursday, May 26, 2011

Should the RTI Act Trump Supreme Court Rules?

Should the RTI Act Trump Supreme Court Rules?

B. Mathur/Reuters

MAY 26, 2011, 4:59 PM IST

The Delhi High Court on Monday stayed an order that would have allowed Indians to seek information from the Supreme Court under the country's Right-to-Information act, rather than under existing court rules, after the top court appealed the ruling.

The Supreme Court has its own set of rules and fees for people seeking court documents.

Earlier this month, the Central Information Commission, which oversees the implementation of India's transparency law, ruled that people seeking information from the court were entitled to use the four-year-old statute if they preferred. They also noted that the court's rules appeared to be out of step with the RTI act, which sets a time frame for applicants to receive the information and doesn't require applicants to furnish any reason for seeking information.

The Supreme Court rules say that "a person who is not a party to the case, appeal or matter" needs to show "good cause" for why they're seeking documents related to the legal matter in question.

"There appears to be a certain discretion conferred upon the court to determine what amounts to 'good cause,' and even where 'good cause' has been shown, whether such information shall be provided or not," said the commission, in its May 11 ruling that the information act could supersede the court's own rules for handing out information. "This is a clear embargo on the enforcement of the fundamental right to information of citizens."

The Supreme Court wasn't happy. For one thing, court rules largely allow for requests for court documents, but the RTI act allows applicants to pose pretty open-ended queries—and that means the ruling could open the door to some people trying to engage judges in further explanations of judgments or decisions beyond the courtroom.

"If the public begins to enquire about the logic behind every judgment, then it will impede the independence of the apex court," said Devadatt Kamat, the Supreme Court advocate who appealed on behalf of the Supreme Court to stay the order.

The May 11 order came in a case where an applicant had sent letters seeking more information about the dismissal of a petition he filed in 2010 to appeal a Delhi High Court judgment that went against him. Some of his queries were addressed to judges. The court's information officer told him he needed to seek judicial information under the court's own rules, and he appealed all the way to the Central Information Commission.

Girija Verma, an intellectual property lawyer who is familiar with the RTI law, said that "the public should have the right to question the logic behind certain judgments that have wider ramifications, like the Bhopal Gas tragedy," referring to the 1984 gas leak from a Union Carbide pesticide plant that killed thousands.

The Supreme Court made a key ruling on what criminal provisions Indian executives of the plant could be prosecuted under, and also issued a judgment ratifying the monetary settlement between the Indian government and Union Carbide Corporation, which was at that time the parent company of the plant.

"If an order is reasoned, then the question of queries arising about the logic behind the order should not arise," said Ms. Verma.

The RTI act does allow for a court public information officer to decline to release information that would hurt an ongoing prosecution or that would amount to contempt of court.

The Supreme Court's information officer had argued unsuccessfully that the procedure for accessing court documents is already clearly outlined in the Supreme Court rules and information seekers should use that procedure.


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The RTI Act was passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House) on 11 May 2005, by the Raj Sabha (Upper House) on 12 May 2005 and received Presidential assent on 15 June 2005. Parts of the Act came into force upon Presidential assent, but the Act came fully into force on 12 October 2005, 120 days after Presidential assent.

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This Blog Spot is meant for publishing reports about the usage of RTI Act (Right to Information Act, 2005) so as to create an awareness to the general public and also to keep it as a ready reckoner by them. So the readers may extend their gratitude towards the Author as we quoted at the bottom of each Post under the title "Courtesy".Furthermore, the Blog Authors are no way responsible for the correctness of the materials published herein and the readers may verify the concerned valuable sources.

Dinamani - RTI News