This Commission holds that the stance of the Respondent that the proceedings on the instant appeal be warrant sine die adjournment as two Writ Petitions on the similar subject are pending for adjudication in the Islamabad High Court, Islamabad does not hold water. The matter under the consideration of Honourable Islamabad High Court in the said petitions is the maintainability of the Writ Petitions which means that it is at pre-admission stage. The question in these petitions under consideration is whether the Registrar of the Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan is competent to invoke the jurisdiction of the court and whether the same falls within the definition of aggrieved person in the context of Article 199 of the Constitution and not the Order of the Commission itself, at least at this stage.
This commission maintains that the pendency of a writ petition regarding the admissibility of another matter cannot be a valid ground to stop the Commission from performing its functions in the instant appeal as the subject matter of the requested information and the Appellant are different. The Appellant in the instant appeal has the right to approach relevant legal forum to exercise his fundamental right of access to information as the said writ petitions are still pending decision at the honourable Islamabad High Court.
The Respondent has submitted that “Islamabad High Court is following the policy guidelines given by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan on the matter of provision of Information of Superior Courts in its letter No. F.1/18/2009-SCA, dated: 30.09.2014, to Ministry of Law and Justice (copy enclosed)”.
This Commission holds that the said letter is of administrative nature and not a court verdict and as such cannot trump the Right of Access to Information, 2017 and its Section 2 (xi) (e) which brings Islamabad High Court within the definition of public body and is as under:
“Any court, tribunal, commission, or board under the Federal law;”.
While this Commission entirely agrees with the stance submitted by the Respondent before this commission by Relying on the operative part of policy of Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan, that the independence of Judiciary shall be fully secured”, this Commission maintains the exercise of constitutional and statutory right of citizens in matters of public importance through the Act is neither likely to, nor, designed to curtail independence of the superior judiciary. This commission also believes that exercise of constitutional right of access to information in matters of public importance through the Act cannot be equated with executive oversight of superior judiciary.
The categories of information to be proactively disclosed under Section 5 of the Act have no bearing on the independence of the judiciary. Similarly, the information to be provided to the applicants under Section 6 of the Act is also not in conflict with the independence of the judiciary. Furthermore, the Public Information Officer to be designated under the Act will receive applications and can turn down any request for information which is likely to impact independence of the judiciary, relying on the relevant exemption clauses of Section 7 and 16 of the Act.
The Respondent has submitted that “the Superior Courts do public Annual Reports on their working giving, amongst other things, the details of year wise Institution/disposal/pendency of cases for information of the general public. Such reports as well as other information pertaining to the composition of Courts, etc., are also available on the websites of the respective Courts”.
This Commission holds that it is not a at the discretion of the public bodies to decide which information is to be proactively published, and how is to be published after the enactment of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 but each public body is legally binding to proactively publish, in accessible manner, all categories of information mentioned in Section 5 of the Act, 2017, including Audit Report of audit year 2020-2021, as requested by the Appellant in the instant appeal.
This commission maintains that the disclosure of the requested information is matter of public importance. Citizens of Pakistan have the right to know under Article 19-A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the provisions of the Act, 2017 about the total sanctioned strength of officers, staff members of Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan, total vacancies in the Supreme Court of Pakistan against different pay scales/ positions (category wise) and dates since which these positions have been lying vacant, number of staff members who are not regular but have been engaged on daily wages basis or through short term or long term contracts against various positions/ pay scale ( category wise), number and types of positions created anew since January 1 2013, total number of female staff members (category-wise) against various positions/pay-scales, total number of persons with disabilities working with Supreme Court of Pakistan against various positions/ pay-scales (category-wise), total number of transgender persons working with Supreme Court of Pakistan against various positions/ pay-scales (category-wise).
In fact, the requested information about the officers and the staff of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the instant Appeal is identical to the one requested in Appeal No 060-06/19 in the case titled Mukhtar Ahmed Ali vs Supreme Court of Pakistan on which this commission issued Order on July 12, 2021.
This commission maintains that the citizens of Pakistan have the right to know under Article 19-A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the provisions of the Act, 2017 about total numbers of vehicle provide to Honorable Judges, officers, staff members and employees of Honorable Islamabad High Court, and vehicles purchase, auctioned, depreciated from January 1, 2013 to onward as requested by the Appellant.
This commission maintains that details of allocated & utilized budget and expenditure statement of the current financial year 2021-2022 of the Islamabad High Court Including proposed and actual expenditures is public information and its disclosure is warranted under the provisions of the Act, 2017.