The Indian Supreme Court (known as the Apex Court) has been involved in a dispute about the extent to which The Right to Information Act (the “Act”) applies to the office of Chief Justice of India (the “CJI”). 

The Act was passed in June 2005 and came into force in October 2005.  It allows citizens of India to request information from or about public authorities.

Section 8 of the Act contains a number of exemptions and provides that “there shall be no obligation to give any citizen…information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information“.

In 2008, an application was made under the Act for a copy of a Full Court Resolution (the “Resolution”) that had been passed in May 1997 which prescribed that every judge should make a declaration of assets held in their names or in the name of their spouse to the CJI. The application also asked if judges had complied with the Resolution. 

A copy of the Resolution was provided to the applicant, but a response to the question of whether judges had complied was not given. The CJI attempted to justify the refusal to provide answers to the queries on the basis that the information was exempt from disclosure under section 8 of the Act as it had been provided to him “in a fiduciary relationship“.

The Central Information Commission (“CIC”) disagreed, and held that the information that had been requested did not fall under section 8 of the Act.  An attempt to pass a bill protecting judges from having to make public disclosures of their assets was made by a government minister in August 2009, but this was withdrawn after opposition MPs accused the government of making deals with judges.

An appeal against the CIC’s order was rejected in September 2009, and in November 2009, as a result of new applications for information being made, the CIC directed the Supreme Court to disclose other kinds of information held by the CJI’s office (including information about the reported attempt by a government minister to put pressure on a high court judge in relation to a pending court case). 

The Supreme Court filed a petition before the Delhi High Court against the CIC’s order. Earlier this month, the order that the CJI’s office comes within the Act was upheld. The High Court said that the Act had an “over-reaching impact” and details of the assets of at least some judges have since been disclosed.  However, it seems that this may not be the end of things, as website The Access Initiative reports that a further hearing in relation to the matter is due to take place on 12 February 2010.