Right to know
Enforcing discipline among the judges is one of the functions of the Judicial Council, which is headed by the Chief Justice. It also recommends the promotion of judges, except for the Supreme Court, and it can take action against non-SC judges if they fail to maintain the sanctity of their office. So, people who have legitimate reasons to believe that
a judge has committed irregularities or otherwise misused his or her authority can lodge a complaint with the JC. Then it becomes the JC’s duty to look into the accusations. However, it is not necessary for all such accusations to stand scrutiny, because some of them may be made out of prejudice, some out of ignorance of the facts though with good intentions, or some, though probably true, might not come with enough evidence to make a valid case. But, all such complaints should be considered, and those that contain prima facie evidence should be thoroughly investigated. In this connection, the JC dropped the cases against 85 district and appellate court judges last week, deciding, however, to investigate the charges against 22 judges.
The JC may be right in its decision. Nobody should doubt the intentions of its members, at least now. Motikaji Sthapit, who represents the Prime Minister as a JC member, made the decision public on Tuesday, saying, “We have decided to drop the cases, as there were no grounds to proceed further against the judges”. Up to that point, he is right. But, where he has gone wrong was when he refused, despite the journalists’ requests, to disclose the names of the judges or the grounds on which 85 were cleared. He said he was not obliged to give the information. But he was. In not parting with the requested details, Sthapit, also a former attorney general, violated the Right to Information Act, 2007.
Can he defend his refusal under the Act by saying that the law does not apply to the information sought? He, rather the JC itself, owes an explanation to the public. Any information of public importance should be made available to any citizen on
request. Information cannot be withheld without ‘reasonable grounds’. This last phrase refers to the protection of confidentiality in certain sensitive
matters like the country’s sovereignty and security as per Clause 3 of the Act. Certainly, denial of information about the charges of irregularities against holders of public office cannot meet any of the confidentiality criteria. But, officials and politicians in power tend to hide unpleasant facts from the public despite their ‘democratic past’. Somebody might well lodge a complaint under the Act against Sthapit’s denial of information. Even judges cannot claim to be above public scrutiny. The public has the right to judge whether the judges themselves have made the right decision, and for that, too, the basis for their decision should be made public. The effectiveness of the law will depend largely on how promptly and fairly right-to-information complaints are addressed. Otherwise, all the penalties prescribed for withholding or refusing information or for providing partial or wrong information would come to nothing.