CJI's office comes within RTI Act, says Delhi High Court

The Delhi High Court has held that the office of the CJI comes within the ambit of the RTI law, saying judicial independence is not a judge's privilege but a responsibility cast upon him

In a landmark verdict against the Supreme Court, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday held that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) 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, reports PTI.

The 88-page judgement is being seen as a personal setback to CJI KG Balakrishnan, who has been opposed to disclosure of information relating to judges under the RTI Act.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice AP 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.

"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 a fiduciary relationship (between a trustee and a beneficiary) with other judges.

Taking a step further to bring transparency in the judiciary, the bench while pronouncing the verdict in a packed courtroom, said its judges will be making their assets public within a week.

The 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.

Lawyers welcomed the decision of the Delhi High Court.

Prominent lawyer Prashant Bhushan termed as "historic" the verdict of the Delhi High Court holding the office of the CJI within the ambit of the RTI Act. "It is a very historic judgement by the High Court which will certainly enhance the stature of judiciary in the country," Mr Bhushan, who has been appearing for RTI activist Subash C Agarwal seeking judges to declare their assets, said.

He said the decision has not only rejected the argument that the office of the Chief Justice does not come under the purview of the RTI Act but also emphasised that the code of conduct and "asset declaration is fully enforceable."

"The judgement has emphatically emphasised that the code of conduct and asset declaration is fully enforceable and that every exercise of power by the judiciary and by the Chief Justice whether in its administrative capacity or in judicial capacity is accountable and comes within the purview of the RTI Act," he said.

Subhash C Agarwal, RTI activist, who sought that the judges make their assets public, said the verdict is a "victory for consumers of justice. I have done nothing more than fighting for justice. I am a victim of misconduct in higher judiciary."

Senior advocate AM Singhvi also welcomed the decision of the Delhi High Court holding the CJI's office within the ambit of the RTI Act. "Personally, I think that the decision of the Delhi High Court on facts, law, equity and good sense is exceptionable," he said.

Mr Singhvi also hoped that the apex court now would not go against appeal of the decision. "Perhaps one can go to the extent of adding that hopefully, the Supreme Court on its administrative side will decide not to appeal on its judicial side," he said.

Senior advocate KTS Tulsi said that the decision of the Delhi High Court would strengthen the faith of the common man in the judiciary and should be welcomed by one and all.

"I think it is a significant step in the journey towards transparency in the function of every public office. Judiciary itself must welcome it because it is merely an extension of policy evolved by the Supreme Court in public interest," Mr Tulsi said.

Mr Tulsi further said that the initial concern and worries would gradually resolve themselves and the media will also learn to use the information with responsibility. "Overall, I feel that as a result of this judgement, the image of the judiciary will be enhanced in the mind of (the) common man. This will increase transparency in the functioning of the judiciary and exude confidence in the common man," he said.
 

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