Wednesday, June 30, 2010

People facing criminal charges using RTI Act to bolster defence

People facing criminal charges using RTI Act to bolster defence

People facing criminal charges are seeking details of their cases from probe agencies through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, and using it to bolster their defence.

While some detectives and lawyers call this a misuse of the law that allows citizens to easily access information available with any public authority, RTI officials and activists say the trend is only bringing more transparency to the execution of criminal justice.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) received at least 4,000 applications to provide information under the RTI Act last year. Most of them were from the relatives and lawyers of people accused in various cases.

“The CBI has a policy of providing maximum information under the RTI Act,” director Ashwani Kumar said. “Out of 4,086 requests received during the year 2009, information was provided in 95% cases.”

He added that the trend was affecting CBI investigations and trials. “Whenever the CBI feels that disclosure of information can affect investigation, it seeks exemption under existing provisions of the Act. However, it has been found that many times, the accused misuse the provisions.”

R.S. Sodhi, a retired Delhi high court judge and a lawyer, said information accessed through the RTI Act can weaken the prosecution’s case. “The accused can misuse the information. Lawyers can argue in the court that there exists an alternative theory and the accused is not guilty. It then becomes difficult for the prosecuting agency to prove their case,” Sodhi said.

But there are instances of the accused receiving justice after accessing information through the RTI Act.

Last week, the Delhi high court asked the city police to initiate criminal proceedings against three policemen for falsely implicating a man in a criminal case. The victim obtained information for his acquittal through the RTI Act.

“Getting information from agencies through court is a long-drawn process. Earlier, CBI was not very transparent in sharing the information,” said chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah.

Noted RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal said the Act has enough safeguards to ensure that the interests of the state are not harmed. “The Act clearly states that if the disclosure of any information is likely to impede the process of investigation, the same should not be disclosed,” he said.