New Delhi, Jan. 16: Like Indias topmost judge, lawyers regulatory bodies have been made accountable to the public under the Right to Information Act.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that bar councils are public authorities under the RTI Act and cannot refuse to share information lying with them with the public.
The ruling is likely to kick off a rush of RTI applications to the bar councils, professional bodies that are expected to maintain ethical standards and discipline within the legal fraternity.
Complaints to bar councils unusually go unheeded, a litigant said, welcoming the ruling. The RTI ruling will make the councils more accountable to the public, the litigant said.
The Bar Council of India had passed a resolution on June 27 last year expressing inability to disclose any information lying with it to the public. Taking the cue from it, the Punjab and Haryana State Bar Council refused to entertain RTI applications from nine people.
Both bar councils claimed exemption from the RTI Act on the ground that they were not public authorities within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the act. Information officer N.K. Tiwari of the CIC ruled against them on January 10 this year.
The bar councils had argued:
They received no grant from the Centre or state governments, nor were financed directly or indirectly by them;
A bar council, central or state, is not a body or institution of self-government established by law;
The councils main source of funding was the enrolment fee collected from lawyers and other such fees.
However, they conceded that the government provided recurring or non-recurring grants for specific purposes to the Bar Council of India.
For instance, Rs 1.88 lakh was released in 2008-2009 for promotion of legal education and related activities; Rs 3 crore was sanctioned for renovation of the Bar Council of India building the same year; and Rs 1.72 crore was released for the building sometime later.
Tiwari, the CIC official, cited that:
Bar councils are not without government control since they have to maintain books of accounts and other books in a prescribed manner. Their accounts are audited by auditors qualified under the Companies Act at the end of each financial year;
A copy of their accounts, along with a copy of the auditors report relating to each bar council, has to be sent to the Centre and is published in the Gazette of India.
Tiwari held that since the bar councils were brought into being by an act of Parliament — the Advocates Act of 1961 — they came within the definition of public authority under the RTI Act.