BCI’s duty to Protect standards of Legal Profession & Education through RTI
Parliament reposed huge confidence in Bar Council of India (BCI) making it a statutory body of Advocates entrusting with responsibility of protecting the values and ethical standards of the legal profession and education. This professional members led the struggle for independence of India, with Gandhi, Nehru and several other prominent leaders being lawyers of eminence. Gandhi’s book on Lawyers has to occupy the hands of every lawyer before they pick up CPC. Quest for justice has to be imbibed in budding lawyers in their colleges. The standards of profession and legal education are the responsibilities of the BCI. It has to take care of legal colleges to produce worthy lawyers, and see those lawyers conduct themselves worthy of their profession.
Central Information Commission has to order that Bar Council of India should comply with Mandatory RTI requirements. In a second appeal the CIC has directed the BCI Chairman to explain when they would be complying with 4(1) (b) on their official website.
Section 4 (1) (b) of the RTI Act states that every public authority shall maintain 17 specified categories of updated information about the working of the organisation which should be posted in public domain using ICT. Every public authority has only 120 days from October 12, 2005. It’s sad that after ten years also some of the public authorities did not make their basic information public. An Advocate Mrs. K.R. Chitra had sought information related to inspection and meetings conducted by BCI.
Not complying with the Section 4(1)(b) need to be considered as a major breach of RTI Act by prestigious statutory professional body, the BCI which contribute lawyers and judges to the system of justice besides laying foundation for their education. It is surprising that they are repeatedly taking a plea that, though they have such information in computer, they have not posted it on website.
The BCI has another statutory duty to furnish annual report in compliance with 4(1) (b), as required under section 19(8) (a) (vi). CIC also directed the PIO to show cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed for this breach of RTI. Commission required the Chairman, BCI to file an affidavit explaining when they would be complying with 4(1) (b) on their official website. The commission said that all the responses should reach the commission by May 9, 2016 else it will be compelled to initiate appropriate action against the Chairman, BCI for noncompliance of section 4(1) (b).
Appellant by his RTI application had sought information relating to inspection of all law colleges, Universities/Institutions and other meetings by the members of the Bar Council of India during the period from 01.04.2010 till date. She wanted the names of members of Bar Council of India, names of all law colleges/Universities and institutions inspected by each member, date/month/years of inspection etc. PIO replied on 12.10.2015 providing parawise reply. First Appeal was dismissed on 29.11.2015 dismissed the appeal as he was satisfied that PIO has provided information.
The PIO of Bar Council stated that they offered NIC to prepare a comprehensive website to post information as required under section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act including the information about inspection of law colleges as sought by the appellant. The PIO said that there are thousands of colleges and other institutions, inspection details about which is impossible to be given unless the appellant focuses on a specific institution or period. She refused to reduce the ambit of questions and insisted on inspection or information in the form of CD.
However, it is noticed that the Bar Council of India has not satisfactorily complied with the section 4(1)(b) requirements. It is a major breach of RTI by prestigious organization called BCI. Commission asked BCI to furnish annual report in compliance with 4(1)(b), as required under section 19(8)(a)(vi) and directs the PIO to show cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed for this breach of RTI. The Commission directed the Chairman, BCI to file an affidavit explaining when they would be complying with 4(1)(b) on their official website by May 9, 2016. If not, Commission will be compelled to initiate appropriate action against the Chairman, BCI for non- compliance of section 4(1)(b), which was sought under section 3 by the appellant in this case as that amounts to denial of information attracting the penalties. (based on decision in CIC/SA/A/2016/000023 7.4.2016 KR Chitra v BCI)
Action against Complaints
In an earlier order, the Central Information Commissioner has ruled that Bar Councils and Associations, being established under the Advocates Act, come under the purview of the Right to Information Act. The CIC was hearing an appeal filed by Mr. Harinder Dhingra, who had sought information regarding the number of complaints filed against advocates under Section 35 of the Advocates Act in the past 10 years. He also sought to know the number of cases disposed of, number of advocates alleged to have committed misconduct or unethical conduct as per provisions of Advocates Act, etc. This information was sought with regard to the lawyers enrolled with the Bar Associations located at Rewari, Faridabad, Punchkula and Gurgaon, for at least 3 years. He further demanded to know the number of disciplinary cases against advocates, which were sent to the Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana, at Chandigarh by the Bar Associations located at Rewari, Faridabad, Punchkula and Gurgaon.
The Bar Council is a statutory body constituted under Advocates Act, 1961, “to protect ethical standards of Advocates and admonish the members for misconduct.” The CIC ruled that the information sought from the Bar Council cannot be denied to the appellant as it does not attract any exemption under the RTI Act. The CIC further observed that even though Bar Associations are different from Bar Councils, they are also constituted under a law made by the Parliament, i.e. the Advocates Act, 1961.
“They too have a duty to inform the people about their activities,” it ruled. Finally the CIC issued the following directions; the Bar Council of Punjab & Haryana, Chandigarh to furnish the information sought: action taken under Section 35 by the Bar Council should be published under Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act on their own; though Bar Associations are different from Bar Councils, they are also constituted under a law made by Parliament, i.e., the Advocates Act, 1961. They too have a duty to inform the people about their activities.
The Commission directed the Presidents of the Bar Associations at Rewari, Faridabad, Punchkula and Gurgaon, to provide copies of complaints against, if any, forwarded by them to the Bar Council of Punjab & Haryana at Chandigarh. It also directed the FAA/Bar Council of Punjab & Haryana, Chandigarh to show-cause why disciplinary action cannot be recommended against him for not taking up the first appeal of the appellant.
Professor Madabhushi Sridhar is a Columnist, Media Law Researcher and Central Information Commissioner.