Secretary general of the Supreme Court (SC) filed an appeal before it on Monday, demanding that the landmark Delhi high court judgment that brought top judges under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act be scrapped.
The high court (HC) had ruled on January 12 that the Chief Justice
of India (CJI) and other judges came under the purview of the transparency law.
The ruling by a three-judge bench endorsed its September 2 single-bench ruling, which had asked CJI to direct apex court judges to declare their assets. The bench had also held that the office of CJI fell within the ambit of the RTI Act.
Reacting to the HC ruling, SC, whose judges declared assets last year, had gone on to challenge the September 2 ruling before a larger bench of the high court, which too dismissed its appeal.
Monday’s appeal written by attorney general Goolam E Vahanvati raises certain crucial issues that might lead to intense legal arguments.
It raises doubt on the right of RTI applicant Subhash Agrawal to invoke the Act “to seek information… which militates against the basic constitutional feature of independence of the judiciary”.
Notwithstanding the fact that RTI itself is a fundamental right, the appeal, however, seeks the court’s ruling on whether “individual rights of privacy of judges under Article 21 of the Constitution are not violated by subjecting them to the disclosure of personal information”.
Seeking the quashing of the judgments passed by two benches of
HC that evoked massive public concern over infusing transparency and accountability in the higher judiciary, the appeal says, “The judges, under our constitutional scheme, occupy a unique position and discharge unique functions… It is necessary and imperative that conduct of the judges is not subjected to public debate.”
The appeal, however, says “the effect of the judgment seriously impairs the position of the judges and the doctrine of independence of judiciary”. The Constitution-makers had insulated the higher judiciary from any “interference, pressure or scrutiny”.
“Independence of judiciary also includes in its ambit independence from any ‘pressures’ or ‘prejudices’,” says the solicitor general’s appeal.
On the issue of “consultation”, the solicitor general says the basic constitutional principle is that “in a process of consultation, the consulter as well as the consultee must have the fullest assurance that the views expressed would be kept in confidence”.