Govt depts to take final call on disclosing legal opinion: CIC

The Law Ministry cannot object in such a case

Written by Krishnadas Rajagopal | New Delhi | Published: January 6, 2012 1:53 am

Confidential” legal opinions given by the government’s law officers,including the Attorney General and Solicitor General of India,come under the purview of the Right to Information Act.

Information Commissioner Sushma Singh held that it is entirely upto the department concerned whether or not to disclose a legal opinion tendered by a law officer. The Law Ministry cannot object in such a case.

The order comes on an RTI petition seeking access to the reported advice/ opinion tendered by then Solicitor General of India G E Vahanvati allegedly in connection with the issue of telecom licences to certain private companies. But Vahanvati,who is presently Attorney General,has denied in the Supreme Court that he gave any opinion on telecom spectrum issues to former telecom minister A Raja. During the hearing before the Commission,the Department of Legal Affairs said it was custodian of the SG’s note and refused access to the applicant,RTI activist Subhash Agarwal,on the ground that such opinions are “confidential and privileged” documents covered under Section 8 (1) (d) of the RTI Act.

Countering the argument,the CIC Bench said that such an attitude of the Law Ministry will prove to be an impossible one. “If so,then the opinion/ advice tendered by the Law Ministry to any department of the Central government will per se become exempted from disclosure under the RTI Act,this,even if the department concerned is more than ready and willing to disclose such advice/ opinion which is held by or under the control of that department…That is certainly not the position warranted by the letter and spirit of the RTI Act,” Singh wrote in her order.

With this,the Commission placed the onus on the department concerned,and not the Law Ministry,to decide whether it wants to divulge a particular legal opinion or not.

“The decision as to whether the legal opinion/ advice tendered by the Law Ministry to the concerned department of the Government of India be disclosed or not under the RTI Act,has to be made by the department seeking that advice and it shall be open to that department/ ministry to invoke the relevant clause of Section 8 (1) of the RTI Act if it chooses not to provide the information sought under the RTI Act,” the CIC held.

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