Friday, February 17, 2017

Delhi HC overturns CIC order directing disclosure of Bar Council of Delhi meeting minutes

Bar & Bench: New Delhi: Friday, February 17, 2017.
Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva of the Delhi High Court on Tuesday held that the details of full house meetings of the Bar Council of Delhi (BCD) cannot be made public under the Right to Information Act.
The matter was an appeal to the orders of the Central Information Commission (CIC) passed in August and December last year, directing that details regarding the minutes of the meetings of the BCD from 2010 to 2015 be disclosed to the public.
In an RTI filed in March 2015, information regarding the BCD’s full house meetings, sources of income and accumulation of funds was sought. On the Public Information Officer’s refusal to provide the same, the CIC had issued a show cause notice asking why penalty should not be imposed for denying the information.
Senior counsel Arvind Nigam, appearing for BCD, had contended that the information about the minutes of full house meetings contained confidential and personal information of third parties. He also argued that the BCD conducts disciplinary proceedings under the Advocates Act, 1961, which involve third parties. Disclosure of information that contains third party details are exempted under the RTI Act.
Further, it was submitted that the minutes of meetings also contained personal information about the advocates who seek financial aid on medical grounds, the disclosure of which is also exempted under the Act.
Justice Sachdeva held,
“By the impugned order, the CIC held that the minutes of the full house of the Bar Council should be disclosed and put in public domain and also on the website of the Bar Council.
…It is this information which has been directed to be put in public domain. The CIC, clearly fell in error in issuing the direction of putting all such information in public domain.”
Under Sections 6 and 36 of the Advocates Act, the State Bar Councils perform various functions, including safeguarding the rights, privileges, and interests of the advocates on roll, as well as exercise of disciplinary powers.
In this regard the bench held,
“Perusal of section 6 and also section 36 shows that in its meetings, apart from general function and information, a State Bar Council would be discussing confidential personal matters of advocates.
…Putting all the minutes in public domain and on the website would imply making public the confidential personal information and also information received by Bar Council in fiduciary capacity.”
The Court further held that Section 12 of the Advocates Act requires the accounts of the State Bar Councils to be audited, the copy of which is required to be sent along with the report of the auditor to the Bar Council of India. This report is required to be published in the Official Gazette, thereby making it available to the public.
However, the Court also held,
“If any person is desirous of seeking any particular information, which is not exempted under the Act, he/she is always free to file an application under the Act, seeking disclosure of such information and on receipt of such an application, the Bar Council would have dealt with the same in accordance with the Act.”
The single judge bench therefore quashed the CIC orders as well as the proceedings initiated by the CIC requiring the PIO to show cause as to why the information wasn’t disclosed.