RTI: SC assails high court judgement on CJI's accountability

RTI: SC assails high court judgement on CJI's accountability

In an appeal filed before itself today, the Supreme Court registry said the judgement needs to be quashed as the judiciary not only as institution but even individual judges should be "insulated from pressures and prejudices."

"Judges under our Constitutional scheme occupy a unique position and discharge unique functions in the constitutional scheme of things. It is necessary and imperative that the conduct of the judges is not subject to ‘litigative public debate‘.

"It is respectfully submitted that the effect of the judgement of the Hon'ble High Court will seriously impair the position of the judges and the doctrine of independence of judiciary," the special leave petition filed behalf of the Supreme Court by counsel Devdatt Kamat stated.

In a path-breaking verdict, the Delhi High Court had on January 12 held that the office of the Chief Justice of India comes under the purview of the RTI Act and rejected a Supreme Court appeal, saying judicial independence is not a judge's personal privilege but a responsibility cast upon him.

In its appeal, the apex court submitted the principle of ‘Independence of the Judiciary’ entails that the judiciary is insulated from pressures and prejudices at all levels: institutionally and at individual level.The apex court's appeal said it totally disagreed with the high court's view that the 1997 resolution of judges to declare their assets voluntarily had a legal sanctitiy.

"The concept of independence of judiciary is not only applicable vis-a-vis the judiciary at the institutional level and other branches of government but it also applies at the individual level. The result of giving legal sanctity to such resolutions would result in impeding the independence of the individual judges," the SLP said.
The observations of the High Court that the resolutions have a binding effect and have legal sanctity strikes at the root of independence of the higher judiciary at the individualistic level, the apex court argued.

It maintained discolosure of such confidential matters would go against the basic structure concept of the Constition."A statute has to be read and interpreted in a manner so as to uphold the basic structure of the constitution.

In the present case, the High Court while interpreting the Right to Information under the Act with reference to the judiciary ought to have appreciated and interpreted the right under Section 2(j) in a manner which is in furtherance of the basic structure of the Constitution namely "Independence of the Judiciary," the appeal said.

"The impugned order seeks to give extra constitutional legal sanctity to Resolutions which is impermissible under the Constitutional framework. It is submitted that the same cannot be said to have a legal sanction.  The sanction is moral only," the Supreme Court said.

The Delhi High Court verdict was being seen as a setback to Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan who has consistently been maintaining that his office does not come under the transparency law and hence cannot part with information like disclosure of judges' assets under it.

Observing that CJI is a public authority under the Act, a full bench of the High Court headed by Chief Justice A P Shah had said judges of the superior courts should make public their assets as they are not "less accountable" than the judicial officers of lower courts who are bound by service rules to declare assets.

The Bench dismissed the plea of the Supreme Court which had vehemently opposed bringing CJI's office within the purview of the Act on the ground that it would encroach into its judicial independence."Judicial independence is not the personal privilege or prerogative of the individual Judge," the Bench had said in its judgement.

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