Citing views, Nariman refuses to be amicus curiae in judges' assets case

Abraham Thomas | New Delhi

The controversial debate on whether or not judges should disclose their assets took a curious turn on Tuesday with noted jurist Fali S Nariman refusing to be amicus curiae in a pending appeal filed by the Supreme Court Registrar before the Delhi High Court.

On Monday, the Delhi High Court had admitted an appeal by the Supreme Court against a Central Information Commission (CIC) order demanding judges disclose their assets. Admitting the appeal, Justice S Ravindra Bhatt sought a response from the RTI applicant who had earlier moved the CIC. It even appointed Nariman as amicus curiae (friend of the court).

Following the order being reported in Tuesday's newspapers, Nariman conveyed in a letter to Justice Bhatt his unwillingness to accept the order. "I must regretfully decline the order since I have very decided views of the matter," Nariman said in the communication addressed to the judge.

But what has stirred up controversy is Nariman's views on the subject published as a letter to the Editor in an English daily on Tuesday. Criticising the judiciary's adamancy to resist from disclosing their assets, Nariman wrote, "For judges of the highest court to litigate as to whether or not they should disclose their assets is as bad as judges going to the Court on whether it was lawful for income tax to be deducted from the salaries they get." His advice to the judiciary mired in this controversy contained in the concluding line of the article that said: "We have good judges, but, we need more judicial wisdom."

At a time when the judiciary is desperately on the look out for friends, having lost a "friend" in Nariman would be a vital blow. On Monday evening, a Press conference organised by Campaign for Judicial Accountability comprising eminent lawyers, too, advised the judiciary not to shy from disclosing the assets.

But in a first of its kind appeal, the Supreme Court Registry took the decision to challenge the CIC order of January 6 this year as being erroneous and wholly misconceived. Taking strong objection to the CIC order, the appeal made a distinction between Supreme Court as an institution and the office of the Chief Justice of India. It argued on the basis that RTI applied to public authorities making them bound to supply information in the public domain. But in the present case, it suggested that neither is the office of the CJI a "public authority" and nor is the information relating to judges' assets in the "public domain".

The Central Information Commission, on the other hand, based its order on a Full Court Resolution passed by the Supreme Court on May 7, 1997 that required every judge to make a declaration of assets in form of real estate or investments held in their names or in the name of their spouses to the Chief Justice. The Central Information Commission ordered the Supreme Court Registry to supply information sought by the applicant, SC Aggarwal, on whether any judge had declared his assets to their respective Chief Justices.