Legal opinions are confidential, says law ministry
In the latest tug-of-war on the applicability of the Right to Information (RTI) Act on government decisions, the law ministry is set to challenge a Central Information Commission (CIC) ruling, directing it to accept the ownership of its legal opinions. Nagendar Sharma reports.delhi Updated: Aug 16, 2011 00:13 IST
In the latest tug-of-war on the applicability of the Right to Information (RTI) Act on government decisions, the law ministry is set to challenge a Central Information Commission (CIC) ruling, directing it to accept the ownership of its legal opinions.
The ministry is unhappy with the July 27 ruling of the CIC, in which the transparency watchdog had held that the legal advice tendered by it to various government departments cannot be kept secretive on the ground that it belongs to the respective department which had sought the opinion.
“The commission shall take this opportunity to clarify that the records of any advice/opinion tendered by the law and justice ministry to other government departments do not fall under the category of information available to it in the fiduciary capacity,” Information Commissioner Sushma Singh had said in her order.
The law ministry, which has maintained that it would not bring the legal opinions within the ambit of the RTI law, and has decided to move court.
“Legal opinions are sensitive and form the basis of settling disputes within the government. We are of the view that these are the property of the department which seeks advice and should be kept confidential,” said a senior ministry official.
The CIC ruling came on an application which had sought information in respect of an incident which took place at Singapore and had formed the basis of a disciplinary action against the son-in-law of petitioner, Pranav Kumar, a Bihar cadre IAS officer.
The applicant wanted to know what advice was tendered by the government's legal arm.
The law ministry had refused to disclose the advice saying it is held by the department from where the file has originated.
In its reply to the RTI query, the ministry also said that advice tendered by it is given in “extreme trust and confidence” and hence cannot be disclosed.
The argument was rejected by the CIC, saying neither any exemption clause under the RTI nor any other provision barring disclosure of information has been invoked by the law ministry while making such a remark.