CJI is public authority: HC

“The expression public authority as used in the (Right to Information) Act is of wide amplitude and includes an authority created by or under the Constitution of India, which description holds good for (the) Chief Justice of India,” the three-judge Bench of the high court said.

In its appeal, 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”.
Observing that the judiciary should not shy away from maintaining high standards of conduct, the High Court said its failure in doing so would hamper judicial independence. In such a situation, public opinion and political expediency may lead the other two branches of government to intervene.

“When that happens, the principle of judicial independence upon which the judiciary is founded and by which it is sustained, is likely to be undermined to some degree, perhaps seriously,” the court said. The court also refused to give credence to the apex court’s submission that CJI’s office is different from the apex court registry.
“In the absence of any indication that the office of the CJI is a separate establishment with its own Public Information Office under the Act, it cannot be canvassed that the office of the CPIO of the Supreme Court is different from the office of the CJI,” the Bench said.

Vahanvati’s stand
The High Court said that the resolution passed by the apex court judges for declaring their assets is binding on judges and turned down the contention of Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati who had pleaded that it did not have the force of law. “Such a contention cannot be accepted if the proper functioning of the judiciary as an institution has to be ensured.

The consequence of accepting such an argument would mean that individual judges will simply declare that they are not bound by any of the resolutions of the Court and they are free to act according to their whim. “Such a position is wholly untenable and unacceptable for the proper functioning of the judiciary,” it said. While concluding by upholding the verdict of single judge, the Bench said it is both proper and valid and needs no interference. “Democracy expects openness and openness is concomitant of free society. Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” the court observed.
DH News Service

‘Preserve judiciary’s independence’
Reacting cautiously to the Delhi High Court verdict on the RTI Act, Union Law and Justice Minister Veerappa Moily has said the independence of judiciary must be safeguarded and anything which impinges on it should be “revisited,” reports DHNS from New Delhi. Moily said: “We must safeguard the independence of the judiciary...We do not consider the verdict as an embarrassment.” The minister noted that there were still avenues of appeal to the Supreme Court, but did not want to elaborate.

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