Monday July 15, 2024

SC to decide tomorrow if it comes under RTI law

By Umar Cheema
September 26, 2023

ISLAMABAD: It is official now. The man and the moment have come. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa has fixed for hearing an appeal which is related to the Right to Information request sent to the Supreme Court of Pakistan filed more than four years ago — still unanswered.

A three-member bench headed by CJP will hear the case tomorrow (Wednesday). Justice Amin ud Din Khan and Justice Athar Minallah are two other members of this bench. The appeal was filed a couple of weeks before Qazi Faez Isa was sworn in as CJP and it has been fixed after he assumed the office. The case is crucial in determining whether or not the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 (commonly referred as RTI law) is applicable to the apex court.

The SC registrar had refused the requested information on the grounds that the highest court doesn’t fall within the jurisdiction of this law although it mentions “any court, tribunal, commissions or board under the federal law” among entities from which information can be sought. Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) has ruled against the argument of the registrar but Islamabad High Court handed the verdict in his favour and suspended the decision of the PIC. Incidentally, an identical RTI request was also made to IHC which has not been answered either.

This all started in April 2019 when Mukhtar Ahmed Ali filed a request to the Supreme Court of Pakistan under the RTI law to demand information about the staff of apex court and the recruitments made to fill in the vacant positions there. He inquired about the sanctioned strength of the apex court’s staff, number of vacant positions, regular staff members and daily wagers. The applicant had further asked if there was any quota for females, disabled, and transgender as is the case in other public bodies and how many seats of them have been filled.

The case is being taken up at a time when Federal Public Service Commission of Pakistan is holding special CSS exam to fill in the seats vacant against the quota of women, minorities and of different provinces thanks to an initiative taken by Dr Shoaib Suddle-led Minority Commission which was set up on the directions of the Supreme Court. A census held by this Commission determined there are more than 33,000 seats against minority quota lying vacant in the Centre and in the provinces.

As far as the case of Mukhtar is concerned, this former information commissioner of Punjab Information Commission has been unable to receive the requisite details from the SC while four and a half years have passed. The registrar of the SC denied it in the first place on the grounds that the RTI law doesn’t apply to the apex court. The SC registrar viewed that the reference of the RTI law that it applies on “any court, tribunal, commission or board under the Federal law” does not cover the apex court which is a constitutional body and is not creation of any federal law.

Pakistan Information Commission ruled in favor of the applicant, Mukhtar, considering the information he sought as a matter of public importance also covered under article 19-A of the Constitution hence directed the provision of information. The registrar went in appeal to Islamabad High Court against the PIC’s order. The IHC Chief Justice heard the appeal and dismissed the PIC’s decision. The applicant went into intra-court appeal but when it became time-barred as he came to know after some delay because the verdict was not announced. The two-member bench of IHC while hearing this intra-court appeal dismissed on the ground that it was time-barred.