Rapid survey of the background of Information Commissioners
I draw your attention to the recent judgment of the Supreme Court in the matter of Namit Sharma v Union of India [WP(Civil) No. 210 of 2012] relating to the appointment of judges of Central and State Information Commissions in India.
- The first question that must be respectfully asked is whether the comparison of Indian Information Commissions with other judicial tribunals abroad is valid. Or is this a case of comparing apples and oranges? It is respectfully submitted that comparing them with other judicial tribunals such as human rights tribunals would be a violation of the doctrine of classification itself which forms the fulcrum of the Apex Court’s judgment.
- After a rapid survey of the background of Information Commissioners from 35 national and provincial jurisdictions around the globe, no serving or retired judge appointed as Information Commissioner could be found in any of the 35 jurisdictions that were surveyed (report attached at link below).
- According to a guidance note prepared for the information of its own staff the Information Commissioner’s office describes the tribunals as follows: “
“Tribunals can be particularly effective in dealing with the mixture of fact and law which is often required to consider decisions taken by administrative or regulatory authorities. Where legislation establishes a statutory scheme involving decisions by an arm of government, if such decisions may be appealed, a tribunal route, rather than redress in the courts, may often be seen as the preferred option in the interests of accessibility. Tribunal hearings are intended to be considerably less formal than court hearings and the costs involved are lower than in court cases. There are still a certain formalities to be followed. For example, witnesses are required to give evidence on oath and consequently if they lie they can still be charged with ‘perjury’.
One of the perceived benefits of tribunals over the courts is that individuals can represent themselves (as ‘litigants in person’) rather needing to instruct a solicitor and barrister. Litigants in person can seek assistance on the legal matters involved in their case from the various advice services available and tribunal staff are required to provide expert help on procedural matters. Individuals prepare and present their own cases to the panel of usually three panel members sitting at the hearing - usually a legally qualified chairperson, and two 'lay members'. The lay members will often be qualified or have specialist expertise in the subject area before the tribunal. All members of Upper Tribunals will have specialised in the area of law they handle.” (accessible at: http://www.ico.gov.uk/foikb/Legal%20briefing%20notes/FOIPolicyLegalBriefingbackgroundpapers.htm)
– Venkatesh Nayak, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
RTI Citation : RTIFI/2012/CIC/655
Click here to view original RTI order of Court / Information Commission