A 5 judge Constitution Bench will decide to what extent the Supreme Court falls within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. It is hearing a challenge to the orders issued by the Central Information Commission (CIC) in 2009, which required the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Supreme Court to disclose certain information. Specifically, the CIC directed the Court to divulge information pertaining to Collegium decision-making, the personal assets of Supreme Court and High Court judges, and the correspondences of the Chief Justice of India with a Madras High Court judge.

 

The Court has resisted these orders on the ground that public disclosure may curtail the independence of the judiciary. Further, fiduciary and personal information is exempted from RTI requests under Sections 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act. The counter-argument however is that public disclosure may also be guaranteed to citizens under the fundamental right to know. And Sections 8(1)(e) and (j) are subject to larger public interest.

 

Will the Supreme Court allow the public disclosure of information pertaining to Collegium decision-making and the personal assets of judges, via right to information requests?

 

Sl. No.

Decision

Reason

Likelihood

I

No

  • Independence of judiciary in public interest
  • Information exempted under S.8(1)(e) and/or (j) of RTI Act – fiduciary & privacy exemption
  • Disclosure would stop Collegium members from deliberating ‘candidly’
  • ‘Reasonable restriction’ on right to know, Art. 19(2)

Likely

II

Yes

  • Full public disclosure necessary to guarantee right to know, Art.19(1)(a) & 21
  • Fiduciary & privacy exemptions of RTI Act subject to ‘public interest’
  • Transparency is essential for democracy, a basic feature of the Constitution
  • Judicial independence to be understood in context of separation of powers

Highly unlikely

III

Case-by-case basis

  • Balancing of right to know & judicial independence on case-by-case basis
  • Determination of ‘public interest’ under S.8(1)(e) & (j) cannot be left to CPIO / SPIO – would violate judicial independence

Likely