Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: After hearing Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Supreme Court and advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal, the 5-judge bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and N V Ramana, D Y Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ reserved the verdict in the matter where an RTI Activist had sought disclosure of information on appointment of judges, thereby bringing collegium under RTI.

For the past decade, the Supreme Court has refused to divulge information under RTI about the collegium’s confidential communications with the government. The collegium recommends judges for the High Courts and the apex court. The Supreme Court, after losing legal battles before the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the Delhi High Court, finally had to appeal to itself to protect the collegium’s workings.

AG’s submission

AG represented the Supreme Court’s Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), who is the authority tasked to respond to RTI queries related to the court. He argued before the Court that opening up the “highly-sensitive” correspondence of the Supreme Court’s collegium and its workings to the Right to Information(RTI) regime would make judges and the government “shy” and “destroy” judicial independence. He also asserted that if the RTI will be applied to the collegium, its member judges would not be able to sit back and have a free and frank discussion for fear that their confidential views may later come into the public domain.

He said,

“If reasons for his rejection come into public domain, will a judge be able to function independently? The entire future of the judge is ruined. The public, litigants lose their confidence in him. A judge whose integrity has been questioned and overlooked for appointment or elevation, is handicapped. He cannot go to the press to clear the air. Disclosure of highly sensitive communication under RTI will risk the very existence of the judicial way of functioning. So, the information should be kept confidential.”

Acknowledging that the right to know was part of the right to free speech, AG said the right to free speech was, however, subject to reasonable restrictions.

On the question of disclosure of personal assets of judges, AG argued even  under RTI was an “unwarranted intrusion” into their privacy.

Prashant Bhushan’s Submissions

Arguing on behalf of RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal, advocate Prashant Bhushan said that the Court has always been on forefront of right to information and transparency. He said that even in SP Gupta judgment, the 7-judge bench said that non disclosure of information would cause greater harm to public interest. He further argued that even in the absence of RTI Act, the Court has held that candidates contesting elections should disclose their criminal antecedents.

He said,

“You have asked centre to follow transparency in appointment in other wings of the Government. You can’t claim exemption from disclosure of information relating to appointment of judges.”

He also said that people are entitled to know about appointment of judges in a democracy. He told the Court,

“you have given judgments on transparency but deny information when it comes to you.”

He also said,

“An honest officer making a decision will not be cowed down by the fear that his reasoning or decision will become public tomorrow.”

When the bench said that a person may not want the information relating to his sexual orientation to be disclosed or the fact that he/she is suffering from schizophrenia, Bhushan agreed and said that Section 10 of RTI Act that provides exemption will be applicable in such cases.

On the issue of disclosure of assets of the judges, Bhushan said that  the RTI applicant is merely which judges submitted there asset details to CJI. 

(With inputs from The Hindu)

OP. ED.

Shri SP Gupta, Senior Advocate turns 90 today, on the ides of March. He has served as the Advocate General for the State of Uttar Pradesh twice.

Wouldn’t it be unfair if we do not run through the historical ‘First Judges Case’ on his 90th Birthday? We thought so too.

As the name of the case suggests, Mr SP Gupta played a key role in the case that paved way for Judicial Independence that consequently resulted into creation of the collegium system for appointment of judges. A 7-judge bench of P.N. Bhagawati, A.C. Gupta, Syed Murtaza Fazal Ali, V D. Tulzapurkar, D.A. Desai, R.S. Pathak and E.S. Venkataramiah, JJ decided the case that is famously known as the ‘First Judges Case’ or the ‘Judges Transfer case’.

Here’s a recap of SP Gupta v. Union of India, 1981 Supp SCC 87, the first of the ‘Three Judges Cases’:

Public Interest Litigation:

Justice Bhagwati said that the Court will readily respond even to a letter addressed by such individual acting pro bono publico, thereby, making the procedure of approaching the Court more flexible. He said:

“It is true that there are rules made by this Court prescribing the procedure for moving this Court for relief under Article 32 and they require various formalities to be gone through by a person seeking to approach this Court. But it must not be forgotten that procedure is but a handmaiden of justice and the cause of justice can never be allowed to be thwarted by any procedural technicalities. The court would therefore unhesitatingly and without the slightest qualms of conscience cast aside the technical rules of procedure in the exercise of its dispensing power and treat the letter of the public-minded individual as a writ petition and act upon it.”

Power of appointment of judges:

Justice Venkataramiah, in his verdict, wrote that under the scheme of Article 217 the power to appoint a Judge of a High Court is vested in the President. However, If there are conflicting opinions the President has to weigh them after giving due consideration to each of them and take a decision on the question. He said:

“While he is bound to consult the authorities mentioned therein and take into consideration their opinions, he is not bound by their opinions. Ordinarily one does not expect the President to make an appointment by ignoring all the adverse opinions expressed by the functionaries mentioned in Article 217.”

CJI not being entitled to primacy in case of difference of opinion:

“The opinion of each of the three constitutional functionaries is entitled to equal weight and it is not possible to say that the opinion of the Chief Justice of India must have primacy over the opinions of the other two constitutional functionaries. If primacy were to be given to the opinion of the Chief Justice of India, it would, in effect and substance, amount to concurrence, because giving primacy would mean that his opinion must prevail over that of the Chief Justice of the High Court and the Governor of the State, which means that the Central Government must accept his opinion.” – Justice Bhagwati

Consultation:

“The consultation has to be meaningful, purposeful, result oriented and of substance. … All the parties involved in the process of consultation must put all the material at its command relevant to the subject under discussion before all other authorities to be consulted. Nothing can be kept back. Nothing can be withheld. Nothing can be left for the eye of any particular constitutional functionary.” – Justice Desai

It was, however, clarified that the President will have the right to differ from the other constitutional functionaries i.e. Chief Justice of India, Chief Justice of the concerned High Court and the Governor of the State, for cogent reasons and take a contrary view.

Independence of Judiciary:

When it was argued that the Executive should have no voice at all in the matter of appointment of Judges of the superior courts in India as the independence of the judiciary which is a basic feature of the Constitution would be in serious jeopardy if the executive can interfere with the process of their appointment, Justice Venkataramiah said:

“It is difficult to hold that merely because the power of appointment is with the executive, the independence of the judiciary would become impaired. The true principle is that after such appointment the executive should have no scope to interfere with the work of a Judge.”

Collegium system for appointment of judges:

It was this case, where the idea of introducing collegium system was first tabled. Justice Bhagwati, in his judgment, wrote:

“We would rather suggest that there must be a collegium to make recommendation to the President in regard to appointment of a Supreme Court or High Court Judge. The recommending authority should be more broad based and there should be consultation with wider interests. If the collegium is composed of persons who are expected to have knowledge of the persons who may be fit for appointment on the Bench and of qualities required for appointment and this last requirement is absolutely essential — it would go a long way towards securing the right kind of Judges, who would be truly independent in the sense we have indicated above and who would invest the judicial process with significance and meaning for the deprived and exploited sections of humanity.”

The other 2 limbs of the ‘Three Judges cases”

The SP Gupta verdict was followed by two more cases that questioned the interference of executive in the appointment of judges.

“The expression “consultation with the Chief Justice of India” in Articles 217(1) and 222(1) of the Constitution of India requires consultation with a plurality of Judges in the formation of the opinion of the Chief Justice of India. The sole individual opinion of the Chief Justice of India does not constitute “consultation” within the meaning of the said articles.”