Apex court admits to error, recalls verdict on CIC

Apex court admits to error, recalls verdict on CIC

The Supreme Court on Tuesday admitted to “a mistake of law” and recalled its verdict that only a serving or retired high court chief justice or an apex court judge could be appointed chief information commissioners (CIC) at the central and state levels.

A bench of justices A K Patnaik and A K Sikri allowed a review petition filed by the Centre against the judgment passed on September 13, 2012, and declared that it was “an encroachment in the field of legislation.”

“As the judgment under review suffers from a mistake of law, we allow the review petitions, recall the directions and declarations in the judgment under review,” explained the bench.

The court also allowed a number of other review petitions tagged along with the government’s appeal.

The verdict had evoked sharp reactions from Right to Information (RTI) activists. Some of them had called it an “unprovoked takeover of the RTI system by the judiciary,” while others claimed that “the judgment was meant to rehabilitate retired judges”.

A bench of justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar (since retired) had then held that the central and state information commissions were judicial bodies.

They should function on two-member benches where one person should necessarily have a judicial background, to be called judicial member, the bench had said.

The apex court, while hearing a PIL challenging Sections 12 and 15 of the RTI Act, 2005, regarding qualification of the commission members, had directed the government to amend the law to ensure inclusion of a person with judicial background for “effective and better” delivery of justice.

In the wake of the strong reactions over the verdict, the Centre sought recall of the judgment, contending that “the court cannot issue directions to the legislature to amend an act or rule. It is for Parliament to amend acts or rules.” The court noted that the job of the information commissioners was administrative in nature since they merely decide whether to make any information public.

“Once the court is clear that the information commissions do not exercise judicial powers and actually discharge administrative functions, the court cannot rely on the constitutional principles of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary to direct that information commissions must be manned by persons with judicial training, experience and acumen or former judges of the high court or the Supreme Court,” it said.

The court pointed out that it was prompted to pass the earlier directives as it was dissatisfied with the way orders were passed by the information commissions. It hoped that whenever a matter involving intricate questions of law arises, it will be heard by an information commissioner having legal knowledge.

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