Lack of transparency in High Courts: A worrying sign?

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

The latest report by the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy (VCLP) titled “Sunshine in the court” analyzed the compliance of Right to Information Act, 2005 by all the High Court based on four Index: Legality Index, Convenience Index, Practice Index and Disclosures Index.

On complete analysis of the report it was observed that none of the high courts passed the legality test. Some rules of different high courts were found to be highly inconvenient not even matching the standards set by Government of India, RTI Rules 2012.

It was also found that there is a lack of good quality publication of information by the high courts. According to VCLP financial and administrative transparency are the matters of great concern with regard to Implementation of RTI Act in High Courts.            

The judiciary that provides main support in the implementation of RTI is itself not abiding by the rules of the RTI Act. This report is important to bring transparency and accountability in the judiciary.

RTI Act in Brief:

The Right to Information Act, 2005 aims at providing the set up for practical system of right to information for citizens that can allow them access to information under the control of public authorities to increase and promote transparency in the working of every public authority.

Public authority includes any authority or institutional body constituted or established by Constitution, or any act of parliament or state legislature, body owned or controlled or substantially financed by the government, NGOs that are substantially financed by the government also come under the ambit of public authority.

The act does not define “substantially financed” anywhere but in general it means the loan or grant by the government to the body, amounting to at least 75% of the total expenditure of that body.

Information can be in any form, even data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority. There can be few restrictions in providing information to the public, considering national security and other grave issues. Section 8 of the Act mentions when the public authority is under no obligation to provide information demanded.

The Act provides for the establishment of The Central Information Commission (CIC) and The State Information Commission (SIC) to maintain transparency in the working of the public authority. It is the duty of the commission to receive and inquire into the complaint of any person. The commission has the same powers as are vested in a civil court while trying any civil suit under Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (CPC, 1908).

High Courts under RTI:

The High Courts in India come under the ambit of Right to Information Act, 2005 under section 2(h) that talks about what all constitutes a public authority. High Court being established under Article 124 of the Indian constitution is a public authority according to RTI Act.

Article 126 of the Indian constitution states that every High Court shall consist of a Chief Justice and other such judges. Hence, both the High Court and Judges of the High Court (including Chief Justice of High Court) are considered as one public authority.

High Courts have power under Section 28 of RTI Act to make rules for implementing the provision under RTI Act. Different high courts have their different High Court RTI Rules. For example, the Delhi High Court has “Delhi High Court (Right to Information) Rules, 2006.” Madras High Court has “Madras High Court Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2007.” etc. There are few restrictions on disclosure of information that:

  1. Relates to judicial duties and function of courts.
  2. Is expressly forbidden to be published by court.
  3. Disclosure of which may result in contempt of court.
  4.  Affects the confidentiality of any examination conducted by court.

Under Section 19 of the RTI Act any one dissatisfied by the decision of State Public Information Officer or Central Public Information Officer, can appeal to the High Court within 30 days after receiving the decision of the Information Officers. High Court shall dispose such appeals within 30 days after receiving such appeals or can extend it to not more than 45 days.

Now, coming to the implementation of various provisions of the RTI Act by the High Court there are some very crucial findings mentioned in the “Sunshine in the Court”. It was seen that most of the High Courts do not prefer to publish or disclose their budget and audit report. Thus, this part of judiciary mostly remains unknown to the general public.

Section 25(2) of the RTI Act requires all the public authority to submit their annual report to CIC or SIC as the case may be so that they can prepare a report on the implementation of RTI. As per the report it was only the Delhi High Court whose stats would be seen in the final annual report prepared by the CIC or SIC. The High Courts do not comply with the time limit to dispose of an application.

The stats provided by the report shows that the High Courts are quite lethargic in implementing proper rules for RTI application as they are not questioned much on the topic. We don’t see anyone talking about the implementation of RTI.

People are even not aware about RTI and how it works. This makes the High Court and officers responsible to maintain proper implementation of provisions in RTI Act less concerned about the proper implementation of RTI Act.

Statutory Authority under Section 4(1) (b) of the RTI Act:

Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 mentions the statutory obligations of public authority under RTI. Section 4(1) (b) of the Act specifically mentions sixteen categories of information that every public authority requires to publish.

The information should be published in such a manner that it facilitates the right to information and ensure the easement in access to such records all over the country. Important information that every public authority requires to publish are:

  1. Duties and powers of its employees and officers should be clearly published.
  2. The procedure of decision making including the channels of accountability and supervision.
  3. Statement of the categories of documents that are under the control of such organization.
  4. Monthly remuneration received by its employees.
  5. The budget allocated, proposed expenditure and expenditure made by its agencies.
  6. About the subsidy programmes: their execution, amount allocated and the details of the beneficiaries.    
  7. Detail of the information held or available with it in electronic form.
  8. Details of the Public Information Officers.

Along with the publication of these information and records the authority is required to update this information, thus published every year.

Conclusion

The “Sunshine in the Court” provides a great insight on implementation of RTI in High Courts. Most of the High Courts do not follow the provision of RTI Act, thus, hampering the process of achieving transparency among public authorities.

To improve the transparency in High Courts uniform rules regarding RTI should be framed this will also ease the confusion among citizens. Special attention should be given on timely disposal of applications. Records should be maintained in a more systematic manner.

There should be timely training programs for all the CICs and SICs. There should be some kind of incentive like bonuses for department head for promoting more and more transparency. 

Greater transparency will assure less need to use the RTI Act by the citizens and at the same time it will create an impression in the minds of the people about the fairness in the system, thereby the aim of the Act can be achieved in its totality.

–This article is brought to you in collaboration with Parth Agrawal from National Law University Odisha .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s