Section 8(1) (b) of The Right to Information Act, 2005 says,
“information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court;”
To interpret the section lets first break it into smaller parts. So we can say, Section 8 (1) (b) exempts disclosure of information: - (i) which has been expressly forbidden by any court of law or tribunal; or (ii) the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court.
It’s easy to follow from the section that only that information which has been expressly forbidden by any court of law is exempted and mere pendency of information, of some related case, before a court does not signifies its exemption. So, one of the prerequisite for application of Section 8 (1) (b) is an expressed order from any court of law or tribunal exempting publication of the information asked for.
“What may constitute ‘contempt of court’ is not per-se defined in The RTI Act 2005. So to know what constitutes contempt of court we should look at the definition given in Section 2 (a) (b) and (c) of the Contempt of Court Act 1971:
2. Definitions: In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires:
(a) 'Contempt of court' means civil contempt or criminal contempt.
(b) 'Civil contempt' means willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
(c) 'Criminal contempt' means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:
(i) Scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or
(ii) Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or
iii) Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.
From the above we can conceive that for a civil contempt there should be either willful disobedience of any judgment, decree or order; or other process of the court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court; while for a criminal contempt there has to be publication of any matter or doing of any act which may either scandalize or lower the authority of any court, or interfere with the due course of any judicial proceedings or otherwise obstruct the administration of justice in any manner.”
So, from the statute itself, backed up by the decision given by bench of CIC, we can interpret Section 8, of The Right to Information Act, that only those matters can be exempted from publications, which may cause contempt of court or which are expressly exempted by any court of law or tribunal.
Sub-judice matters are those matters which are currently under trial or are being considered by a judge or court. In another words we can say that, a matter which is still under consideration by a court i.e. still a subject of active litigation is sub-judice matter.
In the case of Mr. P. K. Puri v Ministry of Labour, Mumbai the bench said that:
“…..each court has its own rules regarding furnishing of copies of documents connected with a case pending before it, to third parties. If the rules of the Tribunal permit furnishing copies of the affidavits or other documents connected with this pending case, or if the rules are silent on this aspect, the documents sought for be furnished to the appellant within 15 days, free of cost. However, if furnishing of the same is not permitted, the same may be communicated to the appellant quoting the relevant rules.”
In another famous case the bench propounded that:
“……there has been a serious error by the respondents in assuming that information in respect of sub-judice matters need not be disclosed. The RTI Act provides no exemption from disclosure requirement for sub-judice matters. The only exemption in sub-judice matter is regarding what has been expressly forbidden from disclosure by a Court or a Tribunal and what may constitute contempt of Court: Section 8(1) (b). The matter in the present appeal does not attract this exemption. Presence of a different provision in the Cantonment Act about supply of documents in sub-judice matters to a requester has had no bearing on the disclosure requirement under the RTI Act. Seen purely from the stand-point of the RTI Act, the right of the appellant to access the information requested by him is unimpeachable.”
Later, we find that in the case of P.D.Bansal v Food Corporation of India when the respondents denied giving the information to the appellant on the basis that the matter is sub-judice and thus its publication is exempted. On this argument the bench said, making the legal stand of sub-judice matter clear, that matter being sub-judice is not a ground to withhold the requisite information under the RTI Act, unless the desired information has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of Law or Tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court, in terms of the Section 8(1) (b) of the RTI Act. And as in the case the respondents failed to produce any such order from any court or tribunal so the bench decided that appellant should be provided with the information.
From these decisions it’s clear that sub-judice matters, on their own, don’t have any stand but information related to any case, which is sub-judice i.e. which is still in trial, which has been expressly forbidden for publication or whose publication might cause contempt of court are exempted to be provided if asked under The Right to Information Act, 2005 under Section 8 (1) (b).
# [Sandeep Garg v Ministry of Home Affairs, Appeal No.CIC/WB/A/2007/00292 dated 29.2.2008]
# [ P.K.Puri v Ministry of Labour, Mumbai, 190/ICPB/2006-December 11, 2006]
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