New Delhi: Bringing down the curtain on a nearly decade-old debate, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is a public authority and is covered under the Right to Information Act (RTI), but added that disclosure of any information sought will have to be balanced with the independence of judiciary, which itself is a matter of public interest.
Upholding a 2010 Delhi High Court verdict, the five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, cautioned that RTI cannot be used as a tool of surveillance and held that judicial independence and right to privacy have to be kept in mind while dealing with transparency.
On whether the deliberations of the Supreme Court collegium comprising five senior-most judges in the appointment of judges or lawyers will be made public, the top court ruled that it should be decided on a case-to-case basis keeping in mind the larger public interest.
The bench said that only the names of judges recommended by the collegium for appointment can be disclosed, not the reasons. Transparency and openness in judicial appointments juxtaposed with confidentiality of deliberations remain one of the most delicate and complex areas.
Besides CJI Gogoi, other judges on the bench included Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Sanjeev Khanna.
While the Chief Justice and Justices Gupta and Khanna wrote one judgment, Justices Ramana and Chandrachud have written separate verdicts.
“Judicial independence and accountability go hand in hand,” said the judges, and added, “Thus, when public interest demands the disclosure of information, judicial independence has to be kept in mind while deciding the question of exercise of discretion. However, we should not be understood to mean that the independence of the judiciary can be achieved only by denial of access to information. Independence in a given case may well demand openness by furnishing the information.”
Further, while applying the proportionality test, the type and nature of the information sought is a relevant factor, the judges said.
Concurring with the main judgment but giving separate reasoning, Justice Chandrachud said the judiciary cannot function in total insulation as judges enjoy a constitutional post and discharge a public duty.
Noting that there is a vital element of public interest in knowing about the norms which are taken into consideration in selecting candidates for judicial appointments, Justice Chandrachud said that if the content of the right to know and the enforcement of right to know law are to possess a “meaningful dimension”, certain steps are necessary, and the foremost among them is that the “basis for the selection and appointment of judges to the higher judiciary must be defined and placed in the public realm.”
Justice Ramana, in a concurring judgment with separate reasoning, said there should be a balancing formula for right to privacy and the right to transparency, and the independence of the judiciary should be protected from any breach.
Stating that “transparency cannot be allowed to run to its absolute”, Justice Ramana added, “We may note that right to information should not be allowed to be used as a tool of surveillance to scuttle effective functioning of judiciary. While applying the second step the concerned authority needs to balance these considerations as well.”
“The Right to Information and Right to Privacy are two sides of the same coin. None can take precedence over the other,” the court said in a majority judgment....