The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that the information to be accessed/certified copies on the judicial side is to be obtained through the mechanism provided under the High Court Rules and the provisions of the RTI Act shall not be resorted to.
The bench comprising Justices Banumathi, A S Bopanna & Hrishikesh Roy held in the case Chief Information Commissioner vs High Court of Gujarat and Another that one must apply under court rules to get certified copies of court documents.
The Chief Information Commission and Gujarat Information Commission had challenged a Gujarat High Court order which had held that the high court rules governing issuance of certified copy of the documents would prevail over the Right to Information Act provisions. The high court had categorically held that when a copy is demanded by any person the same has to be in accordance with the rules of the high court on the subject.
As per Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993, for providing copy of documents to the third parties, they are required to file an affidavit stating the reasons for seeking certified copies. Therefore, the issue before the Court was whether the above Rule suffers from any inconsistency with the provisions of RTI Act. Another issue was: When there are two machineries to provide information/certified copies – one under the High Court Rules and another under the RTI Act, in the absence of any inconsistency in the High Court Rules, whether the provisions of RTI Act can be resorted to for obtaining certified copy/information. Answering these issues, the bench made the following observations:
"The non-obstante clause of the RTI Act does not mean an implied repeal of the High Court Rules and Orders framed under Article 225 of the Constitution of India; but only has an overriding effect in case of inconsistency. A special enactment or rule cannot be held to be overridden by a later general enactment simply because the latter opens up with a non-obstante clause, unless there is clear inconsistency between the two legislations. "
"Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules stipulating a third party to have access to the information/obtaining the certified copies of the documents or orders requires to file an application/affidavit stating the reasons for seeking the information, is not inconsistent with the provisions of the RTI Act; but merely lays down a different procedure as the practice or payment of fees, etc. for obtaining information. In the absence of inherent inconsistency between the provisions of the RTI Act and other law, overriding effect of RTI Act would not apply. "
"When there is an effective machinery for having access to the information or obtaining certified copies which, in our view, is a very simple procedure i.e. filing of an application/affidavit with requisite court fee and stating the reasons for which the certified copies are required, we do not find any justification for invoking Section 11 of the RTI Act and adopt a cumbersome procedure. This would involve wastage of both time and fiscal resources which the preamble of the RTI Act itself intends to avoid."
In order to maintain the confidentiality of the documents and other information pertaining to the litigants to the proceedings and to maintain proper balance, Rules of the High Court insist upon the third party to file an application/affidavit to obtain information/certified copies of the documents, lest such application 28 would reach unmanageable proportions apart from the misuse of such information. 34. Section 22 of the RTI Act lays
The bench also agreed with the Delhi High Court view in the Registrar Supreme Court of India v. R S Misra (2017) 244 DLT 179, wherein it held that "once any information can be accessed through the mechanism provided under another statute, then the provisions of the RTI Act cannot be resorted to.". This view was later followed by Karnataka High Court. The bench observed:
"We fully endorse above views of the Delhi High Court. When the High Court Rules provide for a mechanism that the information/certified copies can be obtained by filing an application/affidavit, the provisions of the RTI Act are not to be resorted."
Case name: CHIEF INFORMATION COMMISSIONER vs. HIGH COURT OF GUJARAT
Case no.: CIVIL APPEAL NO(S).1966-1967 OF 2020
Coram: Justices Banumathi, A S Bopanna & Hrishikesh Roy
Counsel: Senior Adv Preetesh, ASG Kapoor Atmaram N.S. Nadkarni and Adv Prashant Bhushan