Monday September 20, 2021

PIC directs registrar to share information about recruitment in SC

July 19, 2021
PIC directs registrar to share information about recruitment in SC

ISLAMABAD: In a landmark verdict, the Pakistan Information Commission has directed the Supreme Court of Pakistan to share information with the applicant that he demanded by using Right to Information law. It further held that if the citizens’ right is denied on the grounds that it would hurt the independence of the judiciary, other institutions would take the same ground.

“If citizens’ right of access to information in matters of public importance pertaining to superior judiciary is restricted on the grounds that it would impact its independence and core functions, the same grounds would be relevant in the case of all public institutions,” noted the commission in its detailed judgment issued on July 12.

Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, a citizen and RTI activist, wrote to the Registrar of Supreme Court in April 2019, demanding information about the recruitment for different positions in the apex court and waited since then. He asked for the total sanctioned strength of staff members, number of positions lying vacant, recruitment of regular and contractual staff, the positions created from January 2017 onward, female staff, disabled employees and the transgender employed.

He approached the commission which served a couple of notices to the SC Registrar. At the second notice, he shared a letter the SC had sent to the Senate and National Assembly in 2014 in which the parliament was reminded about the separation of the judiciary from the executive and that the “Constitution doesn’t envisage oversight in any form/ manner by any other institution/ organ of the State on the functioning of the Courts.” Also, the SC judgment reported as Government of Sindh vs Sharaf Faridi (PLD 1994 SC 105) regarding separation of power was referenced.

Mukhtar, the complainant, was dissatisfied with the SC response. He said the letter didn’t address the question raised by him. He said the referred judgment is essentially about the separation of power but it doesn’t specifically rule on the applicability of citizens’ right to information on courts. Also, the fact remains that the judgment was passed before the insertion of Article 19-A in the Constitution in 2010 through the Constitutional Amendment and the later enactment of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017.

The judiciary’s independence is ensured by the Constitution, the complainant argued in his response to the SC letter, but it shouldn’t be construed to mean “judiciary is not accountable and responsive to citizens of the country who have created all institutions through legislations enacted by their elected representatives and who are to exercise authority as a sacred trust.”

The judiciary must enjoy high degree of independence, he argued, but it can’t claim to be totally independent as it is very much part of the government that consists of executive, judiciary and legislature and it can’t shun public oversight especially when it comes to use of public funds and exercise of administrative authority in the context of judicial administration.

The commission concurred with the argument of the complainant that the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 doesn’t give blanket exemption to any public institution and also the fact remains that the SC comes within the definition of public body under Section 2 (xi) (e) which is as under: “Any court, tribunal, commission, or board under the Federal Law.”

The commission also agreed with the point that the judiciary’s independence and separation from executive doesn’t and shouldn’t be construed to mean it is not answerable to citizens. Each public institution performs a certain function. If access to the SC’s information is restricted on the grounds that it would have a negative impact on the judiciary, the same grounds would be relevant in the case of all public institutions.

In its order, the commission where directed the SC’s Registrar to share the information with the applicant within 20 working days, it also directed to notify the Public Information Officer of the apex court under Section 9 of the Act and take steps to proactively share through the website all categories of information mentioned in Section 5 of the Act including for the people with disabilities.