Right of Access to Information: Supreme Court (SC) reserves verdict on plea that has raised some ‘complex’ questions
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court reserved its judgment on a plea seeking information about the total number of apex court staff, vacancies, and the total number of females, disabled people, and transgender.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Justice Aminud Din and Justice Athar Minallah, on Wednesday, heard Mukhtar Ahmed Ali’s petition against the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Right of Access to Information.
The chief justice stated that the applicant has brought difficult and complex legal and constitutional questions, which have ramifications. Attorney General for Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan and the applicant were directed to file a written submission and inform about the practice regarding the matter all over the world.
Mukhtar Ahmed said that the information sought under Article 19-A of the Constitution and Right of Access to Information Act, 2017, not being of such nature to raise even the remote possibility of affecting the independence of the judiciary.
He submitted that when the SC Registrar’s Office did not provide him with information about the staff, he approached the Information Commission in accordance with its section 17. The Commission’s order stated, “It didn’t think that the subject information request impinged on the functioning of the judiciary and that too in a manner affecting the independence of the judiciary.”
The Registrar SC moved an application before the Information Commission for withdrawal of its order dated 12-07-2021, wherein, it was contended inter alia that the Supreme Court did not come under Section 2 (ix) (e) of the Act. The commission rejected the registrar’s appeal, who then filed a writ petition before the IHC.
The IHC on July 12, 2021, directed the SC Registrar to share with the appellant the requested information at the earliest, but not later than 20 working days of the receipt of the order.
During the proceeding, the chief justice questioned can the SC Full Court formulate its own regulations regarding what sort of information could be provided or not. Mukhtar responded in positive.
Justice Faez then told the applicant that they could provide him with information, but not as per the direction of the Information Commission. The attorney general said the commission could not direct the Supreme Court.
Mukhtar contended that the Office of Registrar is an administrative post, therefore, it comes under the Act. The Registrar’s Office is distinctive from the Supreme Court, which is defined in Article 176 of the Constitution. As per this provision, the Supreme Court comprises chief justice and the judges. He further said that the Supreme Court exercises its power through judicial orders and judgments.
Justice Minallah said the applicant could have sought a record of how many petitions have been decided and pending, but he is seeking information about the SC staff. He noted that if the Full Court directs the Registrar not to disclose information about the staff, then how could he do this, adding if the Registrar does provide information about the SC staff then he will be violating the Supreme Court’s order.
The attorney general submitted that the employees of the Supreme Court are not under the Registrar, but they are employees of the Supreme Court, and also the funds of the Supreme Court are not separated for judges and staff members. The Registrar has no power of hiring and firing the SC staff.
Justice Minallah also questioned whether the armed forces are included in the Information Act, if not then is it not a violation of Article 19-A?
Mukhtar also sought the details of total vacancies in the top court against different pay scales and positions besides the dates from which the positions were lying vacant.
The applicant asked for the number of staff members who were not regular but had been engaged on a daily-wage basis or through short-term or long-term contracts against various positions and pay scales and the number and types of positions created anew since January 1, 2017.
The total number of females, disabled people and transgender staff members against various positions and pay scales working with the SC and a certified copy of the latest approved service rules of the top court were also required.
Source: Business Recorder