Applicability of RTI for obtaining judgement copy from Courts

If any information can be accessed through the mechanism provided under another statute, then the provisions of the RTI Act cannot be resorted to as there is absence of the very basis for invoking the provisions of RTI Act.

The Supreme Court in the matter of Chief Information Commissioner vs. High Court of Gujarat and Anr., Civil Appeal No(s). 1966-1967 of 2020 considered following points which arose through this appeal:

1) Whether Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993 stipulating that for providing copy of documents to the third parties, they are required to file an affidavit stating the reasons for seeking certified copies, suffers from any inconsistency with the provisions of RTI Act?

2) When there are two machineries to provide information/certified copies – one under the High Court Rules and another under the RTI Act, in the absence of any inconsistency in the High Court Rules, whether the provisions of RTI Act can be resorted to for obtaining certified copy/information?

Article 216 relates to the constitution of High Courts. Every High Court consists of a Chief Justice and other Judges as the President of India may from time to time appoint. The High Court Rules are framed under Article 225 of the Constitution of India. The procedure followed for furnishing of copies/certified copies of orders/documents etc., being information on the judicial side, are governed by the Rules framed by the High Court under Article 225 of the Constitution of India. Insofar as the RTI Act is concerned, in exercise of the powers under Section 28 of the RTI Act, various High Courts have framed the Rules under RTI Act and the information on the administrative side of the High Court can be accessed as per the Rules framed by the High Courts under RTI Act.

In the present case, we are concerned with Gujarat High Court Rules for grant of certified copies to parties to the litigation and third parties are governed by Rules 149 to 154 of Gujarat High Court Rules. As per the Rules, on filing of application with prescribed court fees stamp, litigants/parties to the proceedings are entitled to receive the copies of documents/orders/judgments etc. The third parties who are not parties in any of the proceedings, shall not be given the copies of judgments and other documents without the order of the Assistant Registrar. As per Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, the applications requesting for copies of documents/judgments made by third parties, shall be accompanied by an affidavit stating the grounds for which they are required.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that when there is an effective machinery for having access to the information or obtaining certified copies which, in our view, is a very simple procedure i.e. filing of an application/affidavit with requisite court fee and stating the reasons for which the certified copies are required, we do not find any justification for invoking Section 11 of the RTI Act and adopt a cumbersome procedure. This would involve wastage of both time and fiscal resources which the preamble of the RTI Act itself intends to avoid.

The Court concluded as follows:

(i) Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules stipulating a third party to have access to the information/obtaining the certified copies of the documents or orders requires to file an application/affidavit stating the reasons for seeking the information, is not inconsistent with the provisions of the RTI Act; but merely lays down a different procedure as the practice or payment of fees, etc. for obtaining information. In the absence of inherent inconsistency between the provisions of the RTI Act and other law, overriding effect of RTI Act would not apply.

(ii) The information to be accessed/certified copies on the judicial side to be obtained through the mechanism provided under the High Court Rules, the provisions of the RTI Act shall not be resorted to.