Judicial people should head information panels: SC (Lead)

September 13th, 2012 - 8:02 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 13 (IANS) The Supreme Court Thursday held that the Central Information Commission and state information panels are forums performing quasi-judicial functions and these should be headed and manned by people with judicial background.

“We are of the considered view that it is an unquestionable proposition of law that the commission is a ‘judicial tribunal’ performing functions of ‘judicial’ as well as ‘quasi-judicial’ nature and having the trappings of a court,” said the apex court bench of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice Swatanter Kumar.

The commission “is an important cog and is part of the court attached system of administration of justice, unlike a ministerial tribunal which … performs functions akin to the machinery of administration”, the court said.

The judges said posting of people with judicial background in information panels would render the adjudicatory process, which involved critical legal questions and nuances of law, more adherent to justice and enhance public confidence in their working.

“This is the obvious interpretation of the language of these provisions and, in fact, is the essence thereof,” the court said.

“There is an absolute necessity for the legislature to reword or amend the provisions” of the Right to Information Act to avoid any ambiguity and to make it in consonance with the constitutional mandates,” the court said.

“We are of the considered view that the competent authority should prefer a person who is or has been a judge of the high court for appointment as information commissioners. Chief information commissioner at the centre or state level shall only be a person who is or has been a chief justice of the high court or a judge of the Supreme Court,” the court said.

The court said that one of the two members hearing a plea challenging the denial of information under the transparency law had to be from judicial background.

Justice Swatanter Kumar said: “The appointment of the judicial members to any of these posts shall be made ‘in consultation’ with the Chief Justice of India and chief justices of the high courts of the respective states, as the case may be.”

It further said that a law officer or a lawyer could also be eligible provided he has practiced law at least for a period of 20 years as on the date of the advertisement. Such lawyer should also have experience in social work.

The court’s direction came on a petition contending that the criteria for the appointment of people who have to adjudicate the disputes under the transparency law were too vague, general and ultra vires the constitution.

“The information commissions at the respective levels shall henceforth work in benches of two members each. One of them being a ‘judicial member’, while the other an ‘expert member’. The judicial member should be a person possessing a degree in law, having a judicially trained mind and experience in performing judicial functions,” the court said.

Partially allowing the petition of Namit Sharma, the court said that its verdict would be effective only prospectively.

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