Under the RTI Act, disclosing information on matters which are sub-judice does not constitute contempt of court, unless there is a specific order forbidding its disclosure. This is the fourth in a series of important judgements given by Shailesh Gandhi, former CIC, that can be used or quoted in an RTI application
The public information officer (PIO) cannot deny information on matters which are sub-judice by citing Section 8(1)(e) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, unless there is a specific order forbidding the disclosure, ruled the Central Information Commission. While giving this important judgement, Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner, also disagreed with a previous decision of the Commission.
“The appellate authority had claimed exemption under Section 8 (1)(e), but the PIO has given no reason to justify how this can apply. The only exemption of Section 8 (1) which might remotely apply is Section 8 (1)(b) which states, ‘information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court;’ can be denied. This clause does not cover sub-judice matters, and unless an exemption is specifically mentioned, information cannot be denied,” the Commission said in its order issued on 18 February 2009.
Delhi resident Ashwani Kumar Goel sought information regarding the creation of the posts of additional senior public prosecutors, vacancies and their ad-hoc promotions and subsequent regularizations during the period 1994 to 2005, from the government of NCT of Delhi. The PIO denied the information saying that the matter is sub-judice in the Delhi High Court.
The First Appellate Authority (FAA), while noting that the applicant (Mr Goel) is seeking information for use in the court case to promote his professional and private interests, asked him to obtain the information from Delhi High Court, since the matter was sub-judice. “Further, it was also informed that no large public interest is served from the information as asked by the appellant and can be denied under section 8(1) (e) of RTI Act,” the FAA said in its order.
Dissatisfied with the answers from both the PIO and the FAA, Mr Goel then approached the CIC. During the hearing on 18 February 2009, representative of the PIO cited an earlier decision (No. CIC/MA/A/2005/00001) given by the CIC on 14 March 2006. The CIC decision states that “The matter is sub-judice. The appellate authority has correctly advised that information in question could be obtained through the court, which is examining the matter.”
After hearing both the sides, Mr Gandhi, in an order said, “I respectfully have to disagree with the earlier decision cited by the appellant since it is per incuriam. This Commission rules that a matter being subjudice cannot be used as a reason for denying information under the Right to Information Act.”
CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION
Decision No. CIC /WB/A/2008/00838/1777
Appeal No. CIC/WB/A/2008/00838/
Appellant : Ashwani Kumar Goel,
G-6, Model Town-III,
Respondent 1 : RN Sharma,
Joint Secretary (Home) & PIO,
Govt. of NCT of Delhi.
Office of the Registrar Coop. Societies,
Parliament Street, New Delhi.