RTI Act would not apply when it comes to third party access to court documents or information on the judicial side

The Supreme Court observed that a contract is void if prohibited by a statute under a penalty, even without express declaration that the contract is void

The question of whether a third party could invoke the provisions RTI Act without resorting to the Gujarat High Court rules for obtaining information about the proceedings of certain cases to which the applicant is not a party was raised before the supreme court of India. The Supreme Court held that the RTI Act cannot be resorted to when there is a specific rule stipulating to the access of information by third party in the Gujarat High Court rules.

Brief facts:

The applicant filed a RTI application on 5/04/2010 before the public information officer seeking information about certain proceedings before the Gujarat High court to which he is not a party. In response to the application, the PIO stated that the in order to have access to the information sought he has to make necessary application before the deputy registrar of the court along with an affidavit stating the reasons for obtaining the information sought with requisite fees.

The applicant without making any application before the registrar of high court preferred an appeal before the appellate Authority wherein the appellate authority upheld the decision of the public information officer. Aggrieved by the said order, the applicant preferred a second appeal before the chief information officer. Notice was served to the Gujarat High court. The Gujarat High Court in turn responded to the notice stating that the applicant is required to resort to the Gujarat High Court rules, the details of which has been already provided to the applicant. However the Chief information officer passed an order directing the high court to provide the information sought by the applicant within 25days from the date of order.

Against the said order the High court filed a special civil application before the single bench of the high court which passed an interim order to supply the information sought by the applicant within two weeks from the date of order and further stated that the legality of the application shall be looked into at the final stage of hearing. Against the said interim order, the High court filed a Letters patent appeal before the division bench of the High court. The division bench of the High court allowed the letters patent appeal stating that when there are rules already in existence, fresh rules cannot be applied. Against the said order the chief information officer has filed the present appeal.

In order to assist the Supreme Court in solving the legal issue, it appointed the Learned Additional solicitor General Mr.Atmaram N.S.Nadkarni as amicus curiae. The appellant contended that there are inconsistency between the Gujarat High Court rules & the RTI act and there is no way for harmonious construction. However the solicitor general contended that there are no such inconsistencies. The solicitor general relied upon the decision of the Karnataka High Court which stated that when there is a specific mechanism provided under Supreme Court rules and high court rules, information can be accessed only through the stated mechanisms.

Hence, there were two questions aroused for consideration before the Supreme Court

1. Whether the Gujarat High court rules are inconsistent with the RTI Act?

2. Whether RTI act can be invoked in the absence of any stated mechanisms in case of presence of two machineries?

Key features:

The court analyzing various definitions of RTI Act and the Gujarat High court rules observed as follows:

1. The High court rules as such did not restrain the access of information. It requires the third party to file the application with requisite fees along with an affidavit stating the purpose of obtaining the information sought.

2. The purpose of requiring the applicant to file an affidavit is to ensure that the applicant is seeking the information for bona fide reasons as the court holds the information of the parties in the position of trustees and the same should not be used for obtaining the personal information of the parties.

3. The said rules cannot be abandoned due to the enactment of RTI act as doing the same would pave room for misuse and abuse of process.

4. When there is a specific mechanism to obtain the information is stipulated, RTI act cannot be resorted to.

5. The non-obstante clause in the RTI act doesn’t not impliedly repeal the other rules and thus the RTI act will have an overriding effect only in the case of existence of clear inconsistencies between the acts.

In the light of above said reasons on 4th March, 2020, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Public information officer thereby dismissing the appeals pending before it.

Edited by J. Madonna Jephi

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje

Lavanya Narayanan
I am Lavanya Narayanan, pursuing a master's in international law. With three years into the profession, I am currently reviving my long-forgotten passion for writing. As and when I find a time I watch debates and interviews on the current affairs of our nation. My areas of interest are criminal law, women and child rights especially toddlers. I love listening to puranic stories. I believe accepting things you don’t know as you don’t know leads you to the path of growth. Happy reading!