In a landmark verdict against the Supreme Court,the Delhi High Court on Tuesday held that the office of the Chief Justice of India comes within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) law,saying judicial independence is not a judge’s privilege but a responsibility cast upon him.
The 88-page judgement is being seen as a personal setback to CJI K G Balakrishnan,who has been opposed to disclosure of information relating to judges under the RTI Act. A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice A P Shah and Justices Vikramjeet Sen and S Muralidhar dismissed a plea of the Supreme Court which contended that bringing the CJI’s office within the RTI Act would “hamper” judicial independence.
“The judicial independence is not a privilege to a judge but a responsibility,” the High Court said,adding that the CJI cannot be said to have fiduciary relationship (between a trustee and a beneficiary) with other judges.
Taking a step further to bring transparency in judiciary,the bench while pronouncing the verdict in a packed courtroom,said its judges will be making their assets public within a week.
CJI has consistently been maintaining that his office does not come within the ambit of the RTI Act and the information including the declaration of assets of its judges cannot be made public under it.
The High Court had in its September 2 verdict on the controversial issue held that the CJI was a public authority and his office came within the purview of the RTI Act.
Challenging the order,the Supreme Court registry had contended that the single judge had erred in holding that the CJI’s office comes within the ambit of the transparency law and had interpreted its provisions too broadly which were “unnecessary” and “illogical”.
The apex court also contended that judges cannot be put under public scrutiny as it would hamper their functioning and independence.
“We cannot expose our judges to public scrutiny or inquiry because it would hamper their functioning and independence,” Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati,appearing for the apex court registry,had contended.
The AG had argued that other agencies should not be allowed to interfere in the judiciary.
“Judges cannot be judged by public perception. The judiciary cannot be exposed to third party. There is no problem in having better transparency and accountability in the system but it should come from within the system,” AG had submitted.
As public opinion mounted on the assets issue,the CJI and other judges of the Supreme Court on November two voluntarily declared their assets by putting the details on the official website.
In its appeal,the Supreme Court maintained that the independence of judiciary is paramount.