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File Notings Made By Judges In Administrative Meetings Exempt From Disclosure Under RTI Act: Bombay High Court

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
6 April 2022 6:26 AM GMT
File Notings Made By Judges In Administrative Meetings Exempt From Disclosure Under RTI Act: Bombay High Court
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The Bombay High Court recently observed that file notings made by Judges in administrative/ committee meetings are exempted from disclosure under the RTI Act.A bench of Justices GS Patel and Madhav J Jamdar observed,"Withholding file notings is, in our view, entirely salutary. This is required for the better administration of justice. The actual material may be disclosed pursuant to...

The Bombay High Court recently observed that file notings made by Judges in administrative/ committee meetings are exempted from disclosure under the RTI Act.

A bench of Justices GS Patel and Madhav J Jamdar observed,

"Withholding file notings is, in our view, entirely salutary. This is required for the better administration of justice. The actual material may be disclosed pursuant to an RTI enquiry as along with the final decision but the file notings are only transitory and tentative views and an exchange of views. These should under no circumstances be allowed to be brought into public domain or be made the subject of any controversy."
The Bench added,
"The last thing that is desirable is a litigation calling into question the candid views on an administrative issue of any judge. And, finally, this is critical: the High Court administration speaks with one voice. We leave this aspect of the matter at this stage."

The observation was made in the course of a petition filed by Satara District Bar Association against the establishment of Court of an Additional District Judge and the Court of a Civil Judge in Maharashtra's Wai town.

'Courts Exist For Convenience Of Litigants, Not Advocates': Bombay HC Rejects Bar Association's Plea Against Establishment Of Court At Wai

The Court dealt with an issue of disclosure of information pursuant to an RTI query. The petitioner raised an RTI query. The Public Information Officer responded to that query by providing some information and by saying that the remainder was exempted under Section 8(e) of the RTI Act being information protected from disclosure as it was in the nature of fiduciary relationship. It was clarified that all that was withheld from disclosure were internal notings made by the Judges as members of the Committee.

The bench accepted this explanation by observing,

"There is certainly an element of confidentiality in the notings by Judges of any Committee of this Court. There is also very good reason why such notings should not in fact ever be disclosed or allowed to be disclosed...There is a full and frank exchange of views; dissents, especially noted dissents, are exceedingly rare. A judge who had earlier endorsed contrary notings might, in the discussions that followed with the other Judges reverse his position."

However, it cautioned the PIOs to be more accurate in their responses when any information is sought to be withheld as exempt for disclosure requirements. Whether or not this exercise falls within the description of "a fiduciary relationship" is something that need not be examined further, it said.

The Court explained that the routine practice is that a submission from the Registry is placed before each of the Judges in that particular committee in turn. It is placed in order of seniority beginning with the Judge who is most junior in terms of years of service on the Bench. This is done consciously so that the Judges who are given the papers next in sequence have the benefit of seeing the comments and notings previously made and of then either agreeing or raising any other point. Often, any Judge in this list irrespective of the hierarchy, may ask that the point be discussed in the meeting. That request is always accepted.

"In any meeting, there is no question of any Judge being senior or junior. At that stage, all are equally entitled to voice their views. There is a full and frank exchange of views; dissents, especially noted dissents, are exceedingly rare."

The bench noted that the system of placing a submission before "a junior" Judge first does not indicate and is not meant to indicate that any less weightage is given to that opinion. These are internal processes for dealing with complex administrative issues. In Maharashtra, this is indeed especially complex given the size of the judiciary and the fact that decision-making is not confined to matters pertaining to the High Court alone.

Case Title: The Satara District Bar Association v. State Of Maharashtra and Ors.

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Bom) 109

Click Here To Read/Download Judgment


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