Background to Transparency and Right to information Legislation in Pakistan

In a nation grappling with persistent reports of corruption within official circles, Pakistan’s journey towards enacting Right to Information (RTI) laws has been marked by hurdles and incremental progress. Influenced by mounting pressure from development partners and international financing institutions, Pakistan took its first step towards RTI in 1997, promulgating the Freedom of Information Ordinance (FOIO). However, this initial legislation proved to be weak and short-lived due to changing political dynamics.

It wasn’t until 2010, with the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, that Pakistan solidified its commitment to the RTI cause by inserting Article 19A into its Constitution. This marked a turning point in the RTI landscape, underscoring the citizens’ right to access information in matters of public importance while acknowledging reasonable restrictions imposed by law.

The subsequent phase saw the enactment of a new version of RTI law in 2017—the Right of Access to Information Act 2017. Presently, Pakistan operates five RTI laws, including federal and provincial versions. These laws, collectively referred to as “second-generation laws,” have made strides towards international benchmarks, though challenges persist. For the purpose of brevity, we’ll delve into the federal law in this discussion.

Under the federal RTI law, citizens have the right to access information from various “public bodies,” encompassing federal ministries, departments, autonomous bodies, statutory corporations, and institutions funded by the federal government. Even non-governmental organizations (NGOs) fall under this definition if they receive public funds. While the law strives to facilitate access to information, it also introduces penalties for undue delay or denial of information by public servants.

Despite the progress, practical challenges plague the implementation of RTI laws in Pakistan. Cumbersome procedures, bureaucratic obstacles, and lack of awareness among citizens and public servants hinder the effective exercise of this right. Overcoming these challenges requires a two-pronged approach—bolstering demand and improving supply.

On the demand side, civil society organizations play a pivotal role in creating awareness and motivating citizens to utilize RTI mechanisms. By educating various segments of society about their right to access information, such as students, journalists, workers, and farmers, Pakistan can foster a culture of proactive inquiry.

Supply-side challenges include enhancing the capacity of public servants to handle RTI requests professionally, improve record-keeping practices, and utilize information management systems effectively. Overcoming the bureaucratic inertia and outdated secrecy norms necessitates comprehensive training and engagement strategies.

In conclusion, Pakistan’s journey towards establishing and implementing RTI laws reflects its commitment to transparency and accountability. From the initial weak legislation to the more comprehensive second-generation laws, the country has made significant strides. However, the challenges are real and require collective efforts from civil society, legal practitioners, and policymakers. By addressing both the demand and supply aspects of RTI, Pakistan can pave the way for a more informed, accountable, and participatory society. As legal professionals at Josh and Mak International, we remain committed to championing these principles and advocating for the effective realization of RTI in Pakistan.

Empowering Transparency: The Right of Access to Information Act, 2017

In the quest for transparency, accountability, and citizen empowerment, Pakistan took a significant stride by enacting the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017. This legislation was designed to bring to life the fundamental right of access to information, a right enshrined in Article 19-A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and supported by international legal norms. The law seeks to empower citizens by granting them the ability to access information held by public bodies, while also recognizing the need for reasonable restrictions imposed by law.

Applicable to all federal public bodies, the law positions itself as a potent tool to enhance governance and foster open communication between the government and the public. Its key provisions lay down a framework for citizens to access information, while also defining the responsibilities of designated officials within public bodies.

Under the law, any citizen of Pakistan can submit an application to the designated official, a position typically held by officers in BPS-19 or equivalent, within the relevant public body. This application serves as a formal request for information, and the law outlines procedures for its acceptance, refusal, and timely response. The legislation not only outlines citizens’ rights but also sets obligations for designated officials, ensuring a systematic and standardized process.

Crucially, the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017, strikes a balance between granting access and preserving confidentiality. It delineates specific categories of information exempt from disclosure, safeguarding sensitive matters from undue exposure. These exemptions prevent the misuse of information access while respecting the integrity of certain matters that merit confidentiality.

Furthermore, the law paves the way for the establishment of an information commission. This commission serves as an appellate body, addressing appeals in case of denied information or unsatisfactory responses from public bodies. By creating an independent body to oversee information requests, the legislation adds an additional layer of accountability and oversight, ensuring the effective realization of citizens’ right to access information.

A significant development, the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017, marked the repeal of the Freedom of Information Ordinance, 2002. This move showcased a commitment to modernize and strengthen Pakistan’s transparency framework, aligning it with evolving international standards.

The journey towards transparency did not end with the enactment of the law alone. To operationalize its provisions, the Right of Access to Information Rules, 2019, were introduced. These rules provide detailed guidelines and procedures for the practical implementation of the law, offering a comprehensive roadmap for citizens, designated officials, and the information commission.In conclusion, the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017, stands as a milestone in Pakistan’s pursuit of transparent governance and accountable administration. By empowering citizens with the right to access information and establishing a framework for its responsible disclosure, the law contributes to a more informed and engaged society. At Josh and Mak International, we recognize the significance of this legislation in advancing the principles of openness and accountability, and we continue to support its effective implementation for the benefit of Pakistan and its citizens.

Some reported cases on Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 are as follows: 

 JURISTS FOUNDATION through Chairman (Appellant) v. FEDERAL GOVERNMENT through Secretary, Ministry of Defence (Opponent) – 2020 PLD 1 (Supreme Court)

In this case, the issue pertained to the accessibility of Army Regulations (Rules), 1998, under the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017. The key contention was whether the said regulations, being legislative instruments, should be accessible to the public. The Court held that acts of Parliament or subordinate legislation must be readily available to the citizens of the country, subject to exceptions provided in the Access to Information Act. The exceptions, as stated, extended solely to records relating to defense forces, defense installations, ancillary matters to defense, and national security. Notably, these exceptions did not apply to Army laws. The Court emphasized that every legislative instrument, including the Army Regulations, must be accessible to the public. (2020 PLD 1)

 HAPPY MANUFACTURING CO. (PVT.) LTD. (Appellant) v. FEDERAL BOARD OF REVENUE (Opponent) – 2019 PTD 1922 (Lahore High Court, Lahore)

This case revolved around the disclosure of parameters for selecting taxpayers for audit under Income Tax Rules, 2002, and the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017. The petitioners, income tax assessees, sought the disclosure of audit parameters, asserting it was a matter of public importance. The authorities argued that confidentiality under Section 214-C of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001, prevented such disclosure. The court addressed the term “matter of public importance,” clarifying that it pertained to issues impacting the public at large. The risk parameters used for taxpayer audits were applicable nationally, making them a matter of public importance.

The court invoked Article 19-A of the Constitution, declaring that the petitioners were entitled to know the specific risk parameters applied to them for audit selection. The court invalidated orders that prevented disclosure and directed the Federal Board of Revenue to provide petitioners with the specific parameters used for their audit selection under Section 214-C of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001. This ruling upheld the principle of transparency in tax matters and safeguarded the right to information. (2019 PTD 1922)

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013

The journey of RTI laws in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa showcases a progression from first-generation regulations to a second-generation law that prioritizes accessibility and effectiveness. The implementation of Right to Information (RTI) laws has been a crucial step towards ensuring transparency and accountability in governance. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) RTI Act of 2013 aimed to align with global standards for effective RTI legislation. A detailed analysis reveals how well the KP RTI Act complied with these international benchmarks:

Key International Standards Met by KP RTI Act:

  • Exemption List and Public Interest Balance: The KP RTI Act adheres to the global standard by providing a clearly defined list of exempted information. It emphasizes that even if requested information falls within an exemption category, disclosure may still occur if the public interest outweighs potential harm.
  • Information Exclusion and Interpretation: The Act meets the international requirement of explicitly enumerating information excluded from disclosure. Public officials are entrusted with interpreting these exclusions (Abdullah, 2016).
  • Cost-Effective Access to Information: The Act ensures cost-effective access to information by exempting the first 20 pages from any charges. However, an additional charge applies for each additional page, alongside postage costs.
  • Timely Information Delivery: KP RTI Act complies with global standards by specifying that information related to an individual’s life or liberty must be provided within 2 working days. All other requested information must be furnished within 10 working days.
  • Efficient Complaint Redress: To align with international norms, the Act facilitates an efficient complaint redress mechanism without requiring an affidavit. However, a provision for appealing to the Peshawar High Court has led to confusion.
  • Penalties for Delay or Denial: International standards dictate that officers delaying or denying information access can face fines. KP RTI Act establishes fines of up to Rs. 25,000 or Rs. 250 per day for such instances.
  • Proactive Provision of Information: The Act outlines a proactive approach by listing information types that must be provided without specific interest descriptions.
  • Document Destruction Offence: The Act recognizes the principle that deliberate destruction of documents is an offence, punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine.
  • Inspection Provisions: The KP RTI Act permits the inspection of documents, goods samples, and other items before granting entry, aligning with global standards.
  • Alternate Designated PIO: The Act ensures continuity by assigning the Head of the Public Body to perform designated PIO duties in their absence.

Recommendations for Enhanced Compliance:

  • Expanded Jurisdiction: Including the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and Peshawar High Court in the Act’s purview can bolster access to justice and service delivery.
  • Appeals Court Designation: Designating the Peshawar High Court as the appeals court for Information Commission decisions, along with a diverse panel of commissioners, can enhance the appeal process.
  • Simplified Complaint Process: Streamlining the complaint process, eliminating unnecessary requirements like CNIC submission, and clarifying costs and review time can facilitate access to information.

The KP RTI Act of 2013 has taken significant steps to align with international standards for RTI legislation. By integrating transparency, accountability, and accessibility, the Act contributes to good governance, encourages democracy, and empowers citizens to engage actively in governance processes. Continual efforts to improve and refine the implementation of the Act can lead to enhanced transparency, efficient service delivery, and robust democratic accountability.

Notable case(s) under Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013

Citation: 2018 CLC 1234 Peshawar High Court

Parties:

  • Appellant: Dr. Arshad Rashid
  • Opponent: Chief Information Commissioner, Right to Information Commission (TRIC) KPK, Peshawar

Key Sections: Ss. 6 & 26(3)(b) of Right to Information Act

Issue: The central issue of this case revolves around the non-provision of information as per the direction of the Right to Information Commission (RTIC) by the petitioner, Dr. Arshad Rashid, a public servant. The petitioner’s failure to comply with the commission’s order led to the imposition of a fine of Rs. 25,000.

Facts: Dr. Arshad Rashid, the petitioner, was involved in a matter concerning the provision of information under the Right to Information Act. The petitioner, being a public servant, did not adhere to the direction of the RTIC to provide the required records. Consequently, the commission imposed a fine of Rs. 25,000 on the petitioner due to his non-compliance.

Lower Appellate Court Decision: The imposed fine of Rs. 25,000 was maintained by the Lower Appellate Court, which found the petitioner’s attitude to be obstinate and deliberate in not providing the requested documents. The court determined that proper opportunities for hearing were given to the petitioner, yet he failed to respond or present valid reasons for not providing the necessary documents. In light of these circumstances, the Lower Appellate Court upheld the fine imposed by the RTIC.

High Court Decision: Upon review, the High Court decided not to interfere with the judgment passed by the Lower Appellate Court. The High Court observed that all points and issues pertinent to the case were exhaustively addressed during the appeal process. The court, however, emphasized that the imposed fine should not adversely impact the petitioner’s service career.

Conclusion: The case of Dr. Arshad Rashid vs. Chief Information Commissioner highlights the importance of complying with the directives of the Right to Information Commission. The petitioner’s failure to provide requested documents and the subsequent imposition of a fine demonstrate the significance of adhering to legal obligations. The case also underscores the role of appellate courts in thoroughly evaluating all aspects of a matter. While dismissing the constitutional petition, the High Court ensured that the imposed fine would not have a negative impact on the petitioner’s service career. This case serves as a reminder of the responsibilities and consequences associated with the Right to Information Act.

Balochistan Right to Information Act 2021 

The implementation of the Balochistan Right to Information Act 2021 faces several challenges. While the act has been passed, bureaucratic obstacles hinder its practical application. Unlike Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Islamabad, and Sindh, where similar acts are applied, Balochistan’s implementation remains stalled. The law’s passage was a response to the inadequate 2005 Freedom of Information Act, yet it has not been effectively operationalized.

Accessing government information in Balochistan is a significant challenge due to the flawed implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Despite having various laws in place to facilitate information sharing, the 2005 Freedom of Information Act in Balochistan was inadequately enforced. Unlike other provinces, Balochistan’s RTI regulations differ in response time. While most of the country requires government agencies to respond to citizen requests within two weeks and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa within 11 days, Balochistan grants agencies 60 days for response.

A major concern is that under Balochistan’s law, if a citizen’s application is found to be erroneous, the petitioner faces penalties, while other provinces reprimand government officials. The Balochistan RTI Bill was passed in 2021 but remains unimplemented even after being passed. The rules of business for the bill’s implementation, commission formation, and appointment of information officers have not been established.

The Balochistan RTI Bill outlines that citizens can request information from government departments by submitting a written request to information officers. The officer should provide information within 14 to 28 days. If not, the petitioner can file a complaint with the Information Commission, which must resolve the issue within 60 days and impose fines if necessary.

There were a lot of previous shortcomings in Balochistan’s RTI Acts, indicating that they didn’t fully facilitate information access. The right to access information is a part of UN Sustainable Development Goal 16, requiring member states to achieve this by 2030. Despite civil society pressure, the provincial government has been hesitant to exchange information. Sensitive data is published on official websites to a permitted extent.

Despite the passage of the law, the absence of a proper mechanism with a commission and clear rules of business obstructs its efficacy. The Balochistan RTI Act outlines a timeframe for information provision, but delays in commission formation and appointment of information officers persist. Balochistan’s unique challenges include conflict-related dangers to journalists and the absence of a functional implementation.

Balochistan’s law requires active commission establishment, officer designation, and a transparent mechanism. However, this process has been slow. Concerns arise from the law’s ambiguity, especially regarding exceptions and strategic issues. Despite the constitutional right to information, delays persist, and concerns about information disclosure, national security, and defense hinder the law’s enforcement.Journalists and civil society have advocated for the RTI Act, yet the law’s implementation has faced political challenges and a changing political scenario. A lack of proper awareness and training about the act among journalists has further delayed its effective use. The delay is attributed to the current political setup and censorship pressures.

The Sindh province repealed its Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006 and enacted Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2016 in March, 2017.

In 2022, the Sindh government has taken a significant step toward transparency and access to information by establishing the Sindh Information Commission in accordance with the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act 2016. This commission is tasked with addressing complaints related to the non-provision of information by various government agencies.

The commission operates under the authority of section 13 of the STRI Act 2016, which grants it the power to conduct inquiries into complaints and direct public bodies to disclose information to the applicants. The commission is mandated to resolve complaints within forty-five (45) days of their receipt and issue appropriate orders, including recommending disciplinary actions against officials who fail to provide information.

Moreover, the commission holds the authority to issue directives to public bodies for the preservation, management, publication, publicity, and access to information. This step demonstrates the Sindh government’s commitment to promoting transparency, accountability, and efficient management of information within its jurisdiction.

Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013

Introduction 

In the realm of governmental accountability and transparency, the enactment of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 stands as a pivotal milestone. This legislative measure was introduced with the primary objective of fostering increased answerability within the various echelons of Government departments. By enhancing the accessibility of public information and fostering a heightened sense of responsibility towards its constituents, the Government sought to reinforce its commitment to the principles of good governance.

Rooted in the foundational tenets of Article 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, as incorporated through the 18th amendment in the year 2010, the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 articulates the vital link between democratic governance and the people’s right to access information. The legislation entrenches the right of every Pakistani citizen to formally request information from public bodies through the designated channels. In this context, a citizen’s application for information is regarded as an inherent entitlement, a right that is inherently intertwined with the democratic fabric of the nation.

Central to the operational framework of the Act is the pivotal role assigned to Public Information Officers. These officers, designated or notified within the administrative units and offices of public bodies, play a crucial role in facilitating the dissemination of information. Mandated to respond within a span of 14 working days, these officers serve as conduits through which citizens can exercise their right to information.

The Act also enshrines a vital recourse for citizens who find themselves dissatisfied with the response or lack thereof. The establishment of the Punjab Information Commission, a direct outcome of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, serves as a vital avenue for seeking redress. When the desired information is denied, refused, or not provided within the stipulated timeframe, citizens possess the right to seek resolution through this designated Commission.

To foster a clear understanding, the Act meticulously defines key terms such as ‘information,’ ‘public information,’ and ‘public body.’ This not only bolsters the legal framework but also empowers citizens with a comprehensive grasp of the rights they are endowed with. Worth noting is the repeal of the earlier Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Ordinance, 2013, effectively replacing it with the comprehensive provisions of the enacted Act.

In corollary, the implementation of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Rules, 2014 complements the Act by providing a procedural roadmap. These rules further streamline the process of requesting and disseminating information, serving as a vital bridge between legal provisions and operational efficiency.

In summation, the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, transcends the realm of legislative text to symbolize a fundamental shift towards governmental transparency, public empowerment, and democratic engagement. By entrenching the principles of accountability, accessibility, and responsiveness, the Act serves as a testament to the Government’s commitment to uphold the democratic ideals upon which the nation stands.

Summary of the Act’s Provisions 

The Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, stands as a legislative beacon that embodies the principles of transparency and freedom of information within the province. The preamble of the Act expounds upon the imperative of providing citizens with improved access to public information and enhancing governmental accountability. With a focus on enforcing the fundamental right to access information of public importance, the Act seeks to create an environment where citizens can engage meaningfully with the functions and operations of the Government.

Section 1 of the Act stipulates its short title as the “Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013,” encompassing its extensive application across the entire region of Punjab. The Act was designed to come into effect immediately upon its enactment, reinforcing the expediency of its implementation.

For a comprehensive understanding, Section 2 of the Act defines crucial terms that underpin its functioning. An “applicant” is identified as a citizen of Pakistan or a legal entity within the country seeking information under the Act. The “Commission” is established as the Punjab Information Commission, tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Act. A “complaint” pertains to a grievance brought forth by an applicant for various reasons, including denial of access to information or incomplete information provision. The definitions provided by the Act serve as pillars upon which its operation is built.

The Act outlines the right to information in Section 3, underscoring an applicant’s entitlement to exercise this right in accordance with prescribed procedures. In a bid to foster proactive disclosure, Section 4 mandates public bodies to divulge pertinent information, ranging from their functions and duties to financial aspects and decision-making processes. This provision crystallizes the Act’s mission to foster open communication between public bodies and citizens.

The establishment of the Punjab Information Commission takes center stage in Section 5. This Commission comprises up to three Information Commissioners, each chosen from diverse backgrounds, ensuring a comprehensive approach. The functions of the Commission are multifold, including conducting inquiries, determining public interest, and addressing inconsistencies in the application of the Act’s provisions.

Section 6 delineates the scope of the Commission’s responsibilities, which encompass conducting inquiries, issuing directives to public bodies, providing support to the Government, and ensuring effective enforcement of the right to information. The Commission’s annual report is a significant component, documenting the Act’s implementation progress, challenges faced, and organizational matters.

 Section 7 emphasizes the designation of public information officers within public bodies, responsible for facilitating information dissemination and fulfilling the Act’s objectives. These officers play a pivotal role in realizing the Act’s vision by providing citizens with access to relevant information and fostering transparency.

In essence, the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, appears to emerge as a monumental legislative stride toward governmental transparency and public empowerment. By affording citizens the tools to access information and participate in governance, the Act nurtures a democratic landscape where accountability and engagement flourish.

Section 8 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, underscores the significance of information maintenance and accessibility within public bodies. It mandates these bodies to maintain information in a readily accessible form, in line with the Act’s provisions and relevant rules or regulations. Moreover, public bodies are directed to computerize or maintain information in electronic form as required by the Commission. This is intended to ensure easy retrieval and authorized electronic access for applicants, fostering streamlined interaction between citizens and public institutions.

Moving on to Section 9, public bodies are obliged to publish an annual report of their activities under the Act, covering the preceding financial year. This report must be made available in electronic form or through alternative means by August 31 each year. Notably, the report should be accessible for public inspection without charge and be purchasable at a reasonable cost. This provision reinforces the Act’s commitment to transparency and empowers citizens to be informed about the activities of public bodies.

Section 10 delineates the procedure for submitting applications for information. Applicants are granted the freedom to make requests using an information request form or plain paper. Public bodies are mandated to make the information request form available in both printed and electronic formats. Interestingly, applicants are not required to provide reasons for their information requests; rather, a succinct description of the requested information and necessary details suffice.

Should an applicant encounter difficulties in making a request, public information officers are obliged to offer reasonable assistance. Moreover, the section stipulates that an applicant’s preferred form of access should be honored as long as it does not hinder operations or cause harm. Notably, public bodies are limited to charging fees for reproducing or sending information, as per a schedule of costs set by the Commission.

Section 10 continues by emphasizing the swift response by public information officers to applications. While the standard response timeframe is fourteen working days, this can be extended by an additional fourteen days in cases necessitating comprehensive searches or third-party consultations. However, information relevant to life or liberty must be provided within two working days. If information is denied, the applicant is informed of the reasons and is granted the option to file an internal review or a complaint against the refusal.

Section 11 outlines the procedure for transferring applications received by officers of public bodies other than the designated public information officer. Such applications should be promptly transferred to the appropriate officer, who then processes them as if originally received. This provision enhances the efficiency of the information request process, ensuring that applications reach the right personnel.

Section 12 introduces the concept of internal review, which allows applicants to seek redress for decisions by the public information officer. This includes matters like failure to comply with Act provisions, unreasonable behavior, provision of incomplete information, or any other issue related to accessing information. The head of the public body can be petitioned for internal review, enabling a more thorough examination of decisions and actions.

Section 13 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, delves into the realm of exceptions, outlining scenarios where a public information officer may refuse an application for access to information. The section establishes various grounds upon which such refusal may be based, primarily to prevent harm or potential harm. These grounds encompass a range of critical concerns, such as national defense, public order, international relations, privacy interests, protection of privileged information, commercial interests, safety, crime prevention, and effective policy formulation.

In accordance with subsection (1), a public information officer may refuse to disclose information if its release would lead to or is likely to cause harm to these stated interests. Notably, the section also emphasizes the significance of public interest. In situations where the Commission deems that the public interest outweighs the potential harm from disclosure, it holds the authority to direct the public information officer to provide the information despite the potential harm.

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Moreover, Section 13(3) introduces the concept of severability. If a document contains both exempted and non-exempted information, the public information officer is required to disclose the non-exempted portions if they can be reasonably separated from the rest of the document.

In cases where information is refused, Section 13(4) mandates the public information officer to provide the applicant with detailed information regarding the reasons for refusal. This includes specifying the relevant provision of the Act under which the information is denied, informing the applicant about the procedure for internal review or filing a complaint against the decision, and identifying the individual who can provide full or limited access to the exempted information.

Noteworthy is Section 13(5), which introduces a temporal dimension to exceptions. It states that information falling under the exceptions mentioned in subsection (1) may be disclosed if it is more than fifty years old. However, the Commission holds the authority to extend this fifty-year period by an additional twenty years in specific cases, either based on an application by a public body or through its own initiative.

This section’s meticulous delineation of exceptions reflects the nuanced balancing act between transparency and safeguarding vital interests. By providing clear guidelines on when access may be refused and highlighting the role of public interest, the Act ensures that information dissemination remains aligned with broader societal well-being.

Section 14 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, outlines the government’s obligation to allocate sufficient funds to the Commission. This allocation is intended to enable the establishment of a secretariat, recruitment of necessary staff, and the promotion of information access across the public, civil society, and public servants. This financial provision underscores the significance accorded to the Commission’s operations and its role in fostering transparent governance.

Turning to Section 15, consequences for public information officers are detailed. If a public information officer unjustifiably refuses to accept an application, fails to provide information within the stipulated timeframes, or knowingly provides incorrect, incomplete, or misleading information, the Commission can impose penalties. These penalties might include directing the public information officer to pay fines, which could range from two days’ salary for each day of delay to an upper limit of fifty thousand rupees. The provision emphasizes accountability and the importance of efficient information dissemination.

Section 16 introduces a legal dimension to the preservation and access to information. Destroying records that are subject to information requests, internal reviews, or complaints, with the intention of preventing their disclosure under the Act, is deemed an offence. This offence carries potential imprisonment of up to two years or a fine not less than ten thousand rupees, or both. This section reaffirms the gravity attached to maintaining transparency and the accessibility of information.

The mechanism for addressing offences is elucidated in Section 17. A court can only take cognizance of offences under Section 16 if a written report detailing the offence is presented, with prior sanction from the Commission or an authorized officer. This provision ensures that the initiation of legal proceedings aligns with the Commission’s directives and safeguards the proper use of legal recourse.

Section 18 addresses legal actions against decisions made under the Act. Courts are prohibited from entertaining suits, applications, or proceedings challenging these decisions, except through internal review or complaint procedures stipulated by the Act. This provision ensures that challenges are resolved within the framework of the Act itself, reinforcing the Act’s comprehensive structure.

Section 19 grants the government the authority to make rules in consultation with the Commission. These rules are intended to facilitate the Act’s implementation and may elaborate on various provisions, such as procedures for information maintenance, request filing, penalties, and the designation of public information officers. Additionally, the Act empowers the Commission to frame regulations through notification to effectively operationalize the Act’s provisions and rules.

In the event of difficulties arising in implementing the Act, Section 21 empowers the government to address such issues by issuing orders in the official Gazette, ensuring a smooth and consistent application of the Act’s provisions.

The Act’s overarching goal of advancing transparency and access to information is highlighted in Section 22. It emphasizes that the interpretation of the Act, its rules, and regulations should be aimed at promoting its objectives, encouraging timely information access, and minimizing costs where possible.

The conclusive sections of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, serve to reinforce the protection, precedence, and repealing aspects of the legislation.

Section 23 introduces the concept of indemnity, ensuring that individuals are shielded from legal actions for actions undertaken in good faith or with the intent of complying with the Act, its rules, or regulations. This clause underscores the importance of acting in alignment with the spirit of the Act, granting legal protection to those who act with genuine intentions.

Section 24 reaffirms the prominence of the Act. It states that the provisions of this Act take precedence over the provisions of any other law. Furthermore, it elucidates the relationship between exceptions mentioned in Section 13 of this Act and any exceptions or limitations in other laws related to the right to information. It makes it clear that any exception in other laws should not be construed to extend the scope of the exceptions outlined in this Act, even if those other laws elaborate on similar exceptions.

Finally, Section 25 pertains to the repeal of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Ordinance (IV of 2013). By repealing the previous ordinance, the Act formally supersedes its predecessor, aligning legal frameworks and ensuring consistency and clarity in matters related to transparency and information access.

In summary, these closing sections solidify the legal underpinnings of the Act, safeguard individuals acting in good faith, clarify the Act’s precedence over other laws, and officially revoke the earlier ordinance, thereby providing a comprehensive and updated legal framework for ensuring transparency and the right to information.

Key takeaways from the cases on Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013

From the cases discussed below there are several key takeaways related to the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, and the broader principles of the right to information and transparency in government. Here are the main points:

  • Right to Information in Islamic Jurisprudence: The right to information has historical roots and is supported by Islamic jurisprudence. The concept of seeking and providing information is not only recognized in modern law but also has parallels in historical exchanges, as exemplified by the interaction between Caliph Umar and a citizen.
  • Public Interest and Transparency: Transparency in government functioning is the norm, and secrecy is an exception. The principle is that information belongs to the people and is an essential tool to enhance transparency, and accountability, and reduce corruption. Government institutions should be proactive in disclosing information that is of public importance, including budget, expenditure, and internal decisions.
  • Balancing Public Interest: The disclosure of information should be the general rule, with exceptions only in cases where a real and substantial risk of harm to public order or administration of justice exists. Courts are tasked with a balancing exercise, weighing the public’s right to access information against potential harm to these interests.
  • Access to Information and Accountability: The right to access information is linked to holding the government accountable. Citizens have the right to obtain information from public bodies and government departments that receive public funds. Access to information is seen as a means to reduce corruption, ensure proper decision-making, and improve the delivery of public services.
  • Availability of Alternate Remedies: In some cases, it was argued that there were alternate remedies available under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013. However, courts recognized that certain reliefs, especially those involving fundamental rights or public interest, might not fall within the scope of these alternate remedies.
  • Proportionality and Balancing: Courts often apply the principles of proportionality and balancing when evaluating whether information should be disclosed. They weigh the potential harm against the public interest in accessing the information. If disclosure is likely to serve public interest without disproportionately harming other interests, it is favored.
  • Government Accountability and Public Interest: Government authorities, especially those conducting inquiries or investigations, should consider the public interest in disclosing their findings. If an inquiry was initiated due to public interest concerns, there is a strong argument for disclosing the results to the public to promote transparency and accountability.
  • Transparency and Fair Trial: Disclosure of information related to investigations or inquiries does not necessarily impede a fair trial. Courts emphasize that while certain information might be disclosed for public awareness, it doesn’t affect the legal proceedings or the rights of individuals involved in the trial.

Overall, these cases underscore the importance of transparency, accountability, and the public’s right to information in a democratic society. They highlight that exceptions to the right of access to information should be carefully considered, with a focus on balancing the public’s right to know against legitimate concerns for public order and administration of justice.

Practical problems being faced by people and organisations seeking information based on case law analysis

Based on the cases discussed below and the context of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, there are several practical problems that individuals and organizations might face when seeking information. These problems can often stem from challenges related to transparency, bureaucracy, legal interpretation, and balancing competing interests. Here are some possible practical problems:

  • Delay and Non-Response: Individuals and organizations might face delays or non-responses when submitting requests for information. This can hinder their ability to access timely and relevant information, impacting their decision-making processes or the effectiveness of their advocacy efforts.
  • Misinterpretation of Exceptions: The interpretation of exceptions to the right to information, such as public order or administration of justice, can be subjective. Public authorities might deny access based on broad interpretations of these exceptions, even if the harm to these interests is not substantial or well-founded.
  • Lack of Clarity in Regulations: The absence of clear regulations or guidelines under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act might create confusion about the process of seeking and providing information. This lack of clarity can lead to inconsistent application and understanding of the law.
  • Cost and Resource Constraints: For individuals or smaller organizations, the costs associated with obtaining information through the legal process, such as filing petitions, legal fees, and court proceedings, can be prohibitive. This can discourage them from pursuing their right to information.
  • Inadequate Redress Mechanisms: While alternate remedies are available under the Act, they might not always effectively address concerns related to public interest or fundamental rights. Individuals might find it difficult to navigate the legal process to challenge denials of information.
  • Lack of Awareness: Many individuals and organizations might not be fully aware of their right to access information or the mechanisms available to them. Lack of awareness can lead to underutilization of the legal framework designed to ensure transparency.
  • Bureaucratic Hurdles: Bureaucratic processes and procedures within government bodies can make it difficult for individuals to obtain information. Requests might get lost in administrative channels or stalled due to bureaucratic hurdles.
  • Fear of Retaliation: Individuals seeking sensitive or controversial information might fear retaliation from government bodies or other entities. This fear can discourage them from exercising their right to information.
  • Selective Disclosure: Public bodies might choose to selectively disclose information that reflects positively on their actions while withholding information that could lead to accountability or scrutiny.
  • Balancing of Interests: The balancing of public interest against exceptions like public order and administration of justice can be complex. Authorities might err on the side of caution and deny access to information even when the public interest outweighs the potential harm.
  • Limited Enforcement: Even if courts rule in favor of disclosing information, the enforcement of these decisions might be challenging. Public bodies might resist complying with court orders or delaying their implementation.

These practical problems highlight the need for clear regulations, robust mechanisms for redress, and public awareness campaigns to empower individuals and organizations to exercise their right to information effectively. Additionally, there is a need for ongoing advocacy to address these challenges and ensure that transparency and accountability are upheld in practice.

A review of the caselaw under the Act 

In a noteworthy legal case, The Lahore Gymkhana was the appellant while The Punjab Information Commission was the opposing party. The case, as per the citation 2023 PLD 278, was heard before the Lahore High Court. The central issue revolved around a constitutional petition concerning the right to access information and the interpretation of the term “substantially financed by the Government.”

The Lahore Gymkhana, the petitioner in this case, was aggrieved by a directive issued by the Commissioner requiring them to provide specific information to the respondents on the grounds that the club was substantially financed by the Government. The key contention was centered on the understanding of what constituted being “substantially financed by the Government.”

During the case, arguments were made based on Sections 2(h)(iv), 6, and the relevant Articles 19-A and 199 of the Constitution of Pakistan. The petitioner asserted that the requirement of “substantial financing” should be measured in terms of a specific percentage, and that the Government’s contribution did not surpass fifty percent.

However, the Court’s assessment diverged from the petitioner’s stance. The Court underlined the legislative intent behind the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, which aimed to enhance transparency, promote citizens’ right to access information, and increase governmental accountability.

In its ruling, the Court clarified that the focus should not solely be on a specific percentage of financing. The Court emphasized that the “substantial financing” criterion need not be met by a contribution exceeding fifty percent or holding a majority portion. Rather, the pivotal factor was whether the Government’s financial assistance was material, essential, and played a significant role in the functioning of the entity.

The Court noted that even if the Government’s contribution was fairly large and indispensable to the body’s operations, it would satisfy the requirement of being “substantially financed by the Government.”

The Court also highlighted that one of the primary objectives of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, was to bolster governmental accountability to citizens and promote transparency.

Ultimately, the High Court declined to intervene in the Commissioner’s decision. Consequently, the constitutional petition was dismissed, affirming the Commissioner’s order and the interpretation of “substantially financed by the Government.”

This case underscores the intricate interplay between financial contributions and the notion of “substantial financing” in matters concerning access to information and transparency.

In the legal case documented under the citation 2021 MLD 1491, the appellant was Khushnood Bano, and the respondent was the Regional Police Officer, Faisalabad. The matter was presented before the Lahore High Court. The central issue pertained to the right to information and the availability of alternate remedies for seeking information.

Khushnood Bano, the petitioner in this case, sought a directive from the police authorities to provide her with details of all cases registered against her son. The petitioner’s contention was whether she could obtain this information through an alternate and efficacious remedy.

During the course of the case, various legal provisions were invoked, including Sections 3, 7, and 10 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, as well as Article 19-A and Article 199 of the Constitution of Pakistan. International principles, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (Article 19), and the United Nations Principles on Freedom of Information, were also referenced.

The Court’s decision hinged on the availability of an alternate remedy. The Court pointed out that the petitioner was entitled to address her grievance through Section 3 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013. This Act empowered any person to exercise the right to information in the manner prescribed.

The Court highlighted that a First Information Report (FIR) is considered a public document, and every person possesses the right to obtain a copy of it. However, the petitioner had not chosen to avail the adequate alternate recourse provided by the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, to acquire the required information regarding her son’s criminal cases.

The Court emphasized that before granting relief through its extraordinary jurisdiction, it must ascertain the non-availability of an alternate remedy. In situations where an alternate remedy exists, the Court should only grant relief if exceptional circumstances render the available alternatives inadequate.

In light of the presence of an alternate and adequate remedy, the Court held that an aggrieved person could approach the High Court under exceptional circumstances, when the available alternative remedies were insufficient to address the petitioner’s grievance. As such, the constitutional petition was dismissed, given the circumstances and the presence of an alternate remedy.

In the case reported as PLD 2018 Lahore 198, before the Lahore High Court, the appellant was the Province of Punjab, and the respondent was Qaisar Iqbal. The legal matter involved interpretations of Article 19A of the Constitution of Pakistan and Section 13(1) of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013.

The case centered around the principle of disclosure of information in relation to the functioning of the government and the exceptions to this principle. The court emphasized that in matters concerning the government’s functioning, the norm should be the disclosure of information, while secrecy should be an exception. Secrecy should only be justified when it is truly demanded by the requirements of public interest.

The court established that the right to information cannot be restricted solely based on speculative possibilities of harm or prejudice to public order. Instead, the information must possess characteristics that present a real and substantial risk of causing harm or prejudice to public order. When the state seeks to protect information related to matters of public importance, the court must balance two competing aspects of public interest: the citizens’ right to access information versus the state’s right to safeguard information using exceptions.

The court employed a balancing exercise, considering the principle of proportionality, to determine whether the disclosure of information would cause more harm to public interest than its non-disclosure. If the court found that the balance tilted towards non-disclosure, it would uphold the objection to the disclosure and prevent the document from being released. Conversely, if the balance favored disclosure and it was determined that the public interest outweighed the harm caused by dissemination, the court would order the disclosure of the document. This same balancing test applied when the right to disseminate information conflicted with an individual’s private interest. In such cases, the court had to determine whether public interest would take precedence over private interest.The case revolved around a judicial inquiry report conducted by a “One Man Tribunal” concerning an incident in which fourteen people lost their lives and numerous others were injured during a protest by a political party, with the police being involved. The central questions pertained to the disclosure of the inquiry report in the context of “public interest,” and the exceptions of “public order” and “administration of justice” to the right of information.The court determined that the disclosure of information regarding the incident should be the norm, with secrecy being the exception, and it should only be justified by real and substantial risks to public order or administration of justice. The court conducted a balancing exercise to assess whether the harm caused by disclosure would outweigh the public interest in the inquiry report’s release.

The court found that the contents of the inquiry report did not suggest any apprehension of harm to public order if it were to be disclosed. The incident had not escalated beyond the ordinary maintenance of law and order, and therefore, disclosing the real facts would not cause harm to public order. The court concluded that the public interest in disclosing the report to promote transparency and accountability outweighed any potential harm to public order or administration of justice.

The court also addressed the maintainability of the constitutional petition in relation to an alternate remedy under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013. The court differentiated between the petitioner’s request for immediate access to the report, which fell under the jurisdiction of the Public Information Officer, and the request to make the report public, which involved enforcing citizens’ fundamental rights under Article 19-A of the Constitution. The court held that the second relief was within the scope of the constitutional petition.As a result, the court directed that a copy of the inquiry report be provided to the petitioners for their information and that the report be published by the concerned authorities within 30 days to ensure transparency. The court emphasized that disclosing the inquiry report would not negatively impact the ongoing trial’s outcome.In summary, the case emphasized the importance of striking a balance between the right to access information and the exceptions related to public order and administration of justice. It highlighted the significance of transparency, accountability, and the public’s right to know in matters of public importance.

2020  PLD  110  as  a prominent case on the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013

The legal case documented under citation 2020 PLD 110 was presented before the Lahore High Court. The appellant in this case was Hakeem Muhammad Saeed, and the respondent was the Deputy Commissioner, Vehari. The central issue revolved around the interpretation and application of Section 4 and the preamble of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 (referred to as ‘the Act’).

The Court analyzed the object and purpose of the Act as stated in its preamble. The preamble explicitly indicated that the primary objective of the Act was to enhance government accountability to citizens and to enforce the fundamental right of access to information in matters of public importance. The premise underlying this fundamental right was based on the concept that citizens, as taxpayers, were the true owners of public information held by government departments and public bodies.

The Court emphasized that the right to information served as a powerful tool against corruption, nepotism, and arbitrary decision-making. By ensuring transparency and openness in any public document or action, this right aimed to curb such practices. The Act allowed any citizen, without needing to justify their interest, to request information regarding any public matter or document from any public body or functionaries.

The Court highlighted that mere citizenship of Pakistan was sufficient to initiate the right to seek information. Public bodies were not entitled to inquire about the reason behind seeking such information. The Act established a legal obligation on public bodies to release information through electronic or other means that provided public access, except for information requiring protection due to privacy risks.

The Court emphasized the importance of pro-active disclosure as a prominent aspect of the Act. It stated that in a civilized society, government institutions had a duty to fulfill this obligation in order to enhance their credibility. This duty encompassed sharing information about internal workings, decisions, budget, expenditure, income, and more with the public.

In light of these considerations, the Court underscored the necessity for government functionaries to be proactive rather than lethargic in disclosing relevant information to the public. The Act aimed to create a framework wherein government institutions could improve their credibility by involving the public in their decision-making processes and by making their actions transparent.

The analysis and interpretation of the Act’s preamble and Section 4 formed the basis of the Court’s understanding and decision in this case.

The petitioner, an elected councillor, raised concerns about certain illegalities in ongoing development works within his constituency under the District Council. To address these concerns, the petitioner approached the respondent-authorities and requested access to the records of development work for the relevant financial years, as well as records of tenders for repairs of government buildings, and more. Despite filing multiple applications with the respondent-authorities, the petitioner’s efforts to obtain the requested information were unsuccessful.

The Court noted that Article 19-A of the Constitution conferred the right to access information to every citizen, provided the matter related to public importance. However, this right was subject to regulations and reasonable restrictions imposed by law. In this case, the quality of work executed using public funds and the transparency of government departments’ actions in awarding tenders were matters of significant public importance. Therefore, the petitioner’s prayer for access to information fell within the purview of public interest.

The Court acknowledged that although no regulations had been framed under the Act at that time, the absence of such regulations did not render the right to information ineffective. Even without regulations, citizens retained the right to access information. In the absence of rules and regulations, it became the Court’s responsibility to assess whether the denial of information in a particular case was reasonable and whether an order was lawful or not.

In light of these considerations, the High Court directed the respondent authorities to provide the requested information to the petitioner within the statutory period of 14 days as stipulated by the Act. Additionally, the Court ordered that a copy of the present order be sent to the Provincial Chief Secretary to ensure the appointment of public information officers and the implementation of the Act’s provisions. The Court recommended monthly progress reports of public information officers to be reviewed by the Provincial Secretary of the Information and Culture Department. It also suggested the formation of an implementation committee at the provincial level to examine and enhance the working of public information officers and ensure the effective implementation of the Act’s objectives.

(a) The Court highlighted that the right to information was not only a recognized legal concept but also a longstanding practice in Islamic jurisprudence. An example from history, involving a conversation between a person and Caliph Umar, was used to illustrate the concept of the right to information. References to Surah Al-Baqara Verse 42 and Surah Al-Baqara Verse 159 were made to emphasize this point.

(b) The Court delved into the constitutional dimension by discussing Article 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan. It elaborated that the right to information was a citizen’s entitlement to access information from government bodies and statutory entities funded by public resources. This right was grounded in the principle that information was the property of the people. The right to information promoted transparency, which, in turn, bolstered accountability, reduced corruption, and enhanced the delivery of public services. The Court also noted that access to information was increasingly being acknowledged as a prerequisite for transparent and accountable governance.

(c) The Court examined the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act (XXV of 2013) and focused on Section 4 and the preamble of the Act. It underlined that the primary objective of the Act was to enhance government accountability to citizens and to enforce their fundamental right to access information on matters of public importance. The rationale behind this right was rooted in the notion that taxpayers were the real owners of public information held by government bodies and departments. The right to information was positioned as a tool to combat corruption, nepotism, and arbitrary decisions, making public documents and actions transparent and accessible. The Court stressed that any citizen, without needing to explain their interest, could request information from public bodies. The Act placed a legal obligation on public bodies to release information via electronic or other means accessible to the public, except in cases where privacy concerns were applicable. The Court also emphasized the importance of proactive disclosure by government functionaries to enhance transparency and credibility.

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(d) The Court further analyzed Section 4(h) of the Act, which related to the petitioner’s specific case. The petitioner, an elected councillor, had highlighted irregularities in ongoing development projects within his District Council constituency. He sought access to records of development work and tenders related to government building repairs. The Court determined that under Article 19-A of the Constitution, citizens possessed the right to access information, subject to certain regulations and reasonable restrictions imposed by law. In this case, the quality of work funded by public resources and the transparency of government actions in awarding tenders were matters of significant public importance. The Court held that the petitioner’s request fell within the purview of public interest. Although no regulations had been framed under the Act at the time, the absence of regulations did not nullify the right to information. The Court asserted that citizens retained this right even without regulations. In the absence of regulations, the Court took on the role of determining the reasonableness of information requests and denials. The Court directed the respondent-authorities to provide the requested information within the statutory 14-day period specified by the Act. It further recommended steps to ensure the appointment of public information officers and the implementation of the Act’s provisions. The Court suggested the establishment of an implementation committee to enhance the workings of public information officers and to uphold the objectives of the Act. Any recommendations/orders by the Provincial Chief Information Commissioner were to be implemented by this committee for the benefit of the public. Consequently, the constitutional petition was allowed in accordance with the Court’s directives.

Key excerpts from this case are reproduced below:

Before dealing with the issue highlighted in this petition it is apt to refer the background of Right of Information, a longstanding practice and salient characteristic of Islamic jurisprudence: In the Holy Quran, Allah Almighty says: “And mix not up truth with falsehood, nor hide the truth while you know.” (Surah Al-baqra Verse 42) At another occasion, it has been ordained: “Those who conceal the clear proofs and the guidance that we revealed after we have made it clear in the Book for man, these it is whom Allah curses, and those who curse, curse them (too).” (Surah Al-baqra Verse 159) In early Islamic era, on a Friday Hazrat Umar-e-Farooq (R.A.), the 2nd Caliph of the Muslims arrived in mosque at Madina to lead Friday prayer and proceeded to deliver his address to the congregation; began by reciting some verses from the Holy Quran and addressing the congregation he said, “Now listen!” A young man from Congregation stood up to say, “We will not listen to you, until you give us the explanation that you owe to us” . The people were startled at this audacious interference. The Caliph paused for a moment and then turning to the young man said, “Explanation for what?”. The young man said, “The other day each one of us obtained a piece of cloth from the “BaitulMal”. Today I find two pieces of cloth on the person of the Caliph. I want to know what right had the Caliph to get a share twice the share of an ordinary Muslim?” Before the Caliph could explain, Abdullah, the son of the Caliph rose up and said, “Friends, the truth of the matter is that like every other person my father and myself obtained a piece of cloth each from the “Baitul Mal”. My father is so tall that the piece of cloth that he got from the “Baitul Mal” did not suffice him, so I gave him my piece of the cloth.” This explanation satisfied everyone. The young man who had interrupted the Caliph said, “We are satisfied. You can now proceed with your address. We will listen to you and obey your commands”. (A golden but not the sole or unique example of concept of “Right of Information and Accountability to the Public”). This throws light to the fact that in Islamic jurisprudence Right of Access to Information is not a new idea. 2. Even in the Western Jurisprudence “Right of Information” is recognized as one of the fundamental rights. Magna Carta of Britain is always considered to be the basic document granting Human Rights. Such human rights were adopted and implemented through Constitutions of America and France followed by many other countries. In the Twentieth century the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December, 1948 at Paris France. This “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” is considered a milestone document and generally agreed to be the foundation of international human rights law. It sets out, human rights to be universally protected. One of slogans of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is: “Withholding information is the essence of tyranny” Under this slogan Article 19 of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ runs as under: “Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” At global level 115 countries have adopted the Right of Information as law and more than 100 countries have acknowledged the right of Access to Information as a fundamental right. 3. Right to information (RTI) is the right that a citizen has, of access to information from the government and statutory bodies that receive public funds. RTI is based on the principle that information belongs to the people. It boosts transparency, which in turn strengthens accountability, reduces corruption and improves delivery of public services. Access to information was increasingly recognized as a prerequisite for transparency and accountability of governments, as safeguarding citizens against mismanagement and corruption. This has led to enacting freedom of information legislation. 4. In Pakistan, right of access to information has been acknowledged as a fundamental right vide Eighteenth Amendment since the year 2010 by inserting Article 19-A to the Constitution. The said provision reads as under: “19-A Right to information. – Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law. 5. It is appreciable that in pursuance of the command of Article 19-A supra a very effective legislation by the Provincial Legislature has been made i.e. The Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 (the Act). Moreover, the Punjab Government has established The Punjab Information Commission as implementing agency of this legislation since 2014. It is regrettable to note that public at large is still not much aware about the remedy available to them under the said law in cases where government functionaries or public bodies do not respond to their requests of access to information. At this juncture it would be appropriate to reproduce Pre-amble of the Act ibid to highlight its purpose, scope, extent, import and reasons: “Whereas it is expedient to provide for transparency and freedom of information to ensure that citizens have improved access to public information; to make the Government more accountable to citizens; to enforce the fundamental right of access to information in all matters of public importance; and, to provide for ancillary matters” The Preamble quoted above would indicate that primary object of the said law is to make the government more accountable to citizens and to enforce their fundamental right of access to information in all matters of public importance. The premise of such fundamental right is based upon the concept that the citizens being tax payers are real owners of public information held by the public bodies or government departments. It is no doubt a modern device in the political history of civilized society rather a weapon against corruption, nepotism and arbitrary decisions by making any public document or public action transparent and open to public view. Any citizen without an obligation of explaining his interest can seek information regarding any public matter/document from any public body/functionaries. His being only citizen of Pakistan is enough to constitute his cause of action. The public body can also not ask the reason for seeking such public information. At this juncture I feel it imperative to note that Section 4 of the Act requires the public body/state functionaries to proactively disclose certain information. Said provision of law reads as under: “4. Proactive disclosure.- Subject to the provisions of this Act, a public body shall proactively disclose (a) Particulars of the public body, its functions and duties; (b) Powers and functions of its officers and employees; (c) Norms and criteria set by the public body for the discharge of its functions; (d) Acts, Ordinances, rules, regulations, notifications, circulars and other legal instruments being enforced, issued or used by the public body in the discharge of its functions; (e) A statement of categories of information being held by the public body; (f) A description of its decision-making processes and any opportunities for the public to provide input into or be consulted about decisions; (g) A directory of its officers and employees with their respective remuneration, perks and privileges; (h) Budget of the public body including details of all proposed and actual expenditures; (i) Amount of subsidy and details of beneficiaries if the public body provides any subsidy; (j) Particulars of the recipients of concessions, permits or authorizations granted by the public body; (k) Facilities available with the public body for obtaining information held by it; (l) Name, designation and other particulars of the public information officer of the public body; and (m) Any other information that the Government may notify in the official Gazette. The over-all scheme of the Act casts a legal obligation upon public body to release information through electronic or other means having public access (of course with the exception of information that the body is required to protect due to privacy risk). Needless to mention that law expects government functionaries pro-active and not lethargic role. For this purpose, the Act of 2013 requires designation of public information officers (P.I.O.) in all administrative units or offices under it who have been bound down to provide requisite information within 14 days of filing of R.T.I. application under Section 10 of the Act. For said purpose each public body was mandated under Section 7 of the Act to designate/notify at least one public information officer for each office or administrative unit within 60 days of promulgation of this Act. Said provision of law runs as under: “7. Designation of public information officers: – (1) A public body shall, within sixty days of the commencement of this Act, designate and notify as many officers as public information officers in all administrative units or offices under it, as may be necessary. (2) Subject to the provisions of this Act, a public information officer shall provide information to an applicant, and shall perform such other functions as may be prescribed to achieve the purpose of this Act. (3) The public information officer may seek necessary assistance of any other officer of the public body. (4) Any officer whose assistance has been sought under subsection (3) shall render all assistance to the public information officer seeking his assistance and for purposes of any contravention of the provisions of this Act, such other officer shall be deemed as public information officer. 6. Now I come to the present case which has arisen from denial of the respondents to make available required information to the petitioner recognizing his fundamental right. Feeling embittered by the conduct of the respondents not to come to his aid, the petitioner has invoked jurisdiction of this Court under Article 199 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 (the Constitution) to enforce his fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19-A of the Constitution. 7. Shorn of unnecessary details, facts of the case are that Hakim Muhammad Saeed, petitioner being elected councillor pointed out certain illegalities in ongoing development works in his constituency of Distt. Council and as such approached respondents Nos. 2 to 4 making a request to provide him record of development work for. The financial years 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 as well as record of tenders of repairs of government buildings etc. (detailed in petition). As per petitioner, he filed a number of applications before the respondents but all his efforts proved fruitless. Case of the petitioner before this Court is that since he is seeking copies of public record/documents as such as per mandate of the Act, the respondents are under obligation to accede to request of the petitioner. Bare perusal of Section 4 of the Act would depict that information required in the present case falls in category (h) thereof. 8. Learned counsel for the petitioner has vehemently argued that Article 19-A of the Constitution enshrines the right of citizens to have access to information in all matters of public importance as their fundamental right. He has also referred the provisions of the Act which provide statutory mechanism to facilitate citizens to retrieve copies of public record where public bodies do not fulfil their statutory liability. 9. When pointed out that the petitioner has a remedy to approach to Public Information Officer in terms of the Act absence of which is condition precedent to invoke constitutional jurisdiction of this Court, learned counsel submits that no Public Information Officer has yet been designated in the concerned department, which necessitated filing of the instant petition. 10. Keeping in view the importance of issue involved in this petition, it was felt by this Court that at least Punjab Information Commission was a proper party. As such notice was issued to the Chief Information Commissioner, Punjab to appear and assist the Court in this matter. 11. Mr. Mahboob Qadir Shah, Chief Information Commissioner, Punjab (C.I.C.) has entered appearance and while addressing the Court has highlighted basic features of the Act vis-a-vis rights of citizens in cases where government functionaries/public bodies decline or cause inordinate delay to provide public information and the powers of Punjab Information Commission to enforce its decision against any officer or public body. 12. The C.I.C. submits that in case a citizen is not provided requisite information within 14 days or inordinate delay is being caused or the conduct of P.I.O. or public functionaries is objectionable then he can file Right to Information complaint to Punjab Information Commission under the law and the Commission in such case asunder obligation to ensure provision of public information maximum within 30 days. The Act has blessed the Commission with powers of civil court as it has the authority to impose penalty under Section 15 up to rupees 50 thousand in case of violation of its orders. Even section 16 provides punishment awarding imprisonment up to two years in case of commission of offence of destroying any record. The R.T.I. Law being a special law takes precedence over all other laws. As such it provides a powerful tool and mechanism to implement the objects of freedom of information. 13. He has also highlighted that filing an R.T.I. application to the P.I.O. for public information followed by seeking the support of Punjab Information Commission by filing R.T.I. complaint is one part of mechanism bringing public information in public domain. The law at the same time provides much strongest and stringent mechanism of proactive disclosure by public bodies under Section 4 of the Act which casts a mandatory obligation for public bodies to voluntarily bringing entire public information in public domain through its websites, circulars and notices. It means that most of the important public information regarding functions, duties, orders, regulations, circulars etc. are intended to be readily available for public. In my view proactive disclosure is most salient aspect of this law. In a civilized society government institution must fulfil this obligation to improve their credibility by taking public into confidence about their internal working and decisions including budget, expenditure, income etc. The court has been apprised that the Chief Secretary Govt. of Punjab has already issued instructions to government departments to proactively disclose their information which needs further improvement as transparency is paramount consideration. 14. A perusal of Article 19-A of the Constitution would show that every citizen has been conferred a right to have access to information. However, such right is available under the said constitutional provision only if matter relates to public importance. Enforcement of this right has been further made subject to curtain regulations and reasonable restrictions imposed by law. So far as first part of the provision is concerned, it cannot be denied that quality of work done from public exchequer and transparency of actions of government departments in awarding tenders etc. are of vital importance to the public at large. As such it is crystal clear that the prayer of the petitioner relates to issue of public importance. Steering thoughts in this regard have been gathered from the case Shabbir Hussain v. Executive District Officer (Education), Larkana and 5 others [2012 CLC 16 (Sindh)]. 15. So far as non-framing of regulations is concerned, suffice it to say that absence of same cannot have effect of rendering this right as nugatory. Therefore, even if no regulations are framed, this right is available to the citizens. Needless to mention that in absence of Rules/regulations, it becomes obligation of the court to determine whether request for information in a particular case or denial thereof is reasonable or an order is without lawful authority or not. Reference may be made to the case Muhammad Masood Butt and 3 others v. S.M. Corporation (Pt.) Ltd. and 5 others (PLD 2011 Karachi 177). Even otherwise it is apprised by C.I.C. that the task of framing Regulations is near to completion. It will be fair enough to expect that this task will be completed at the earliest, preferably in 60 days and the public be apprised of the Regulations by modern devices/means of communication. 16. The question of right to information and providing information by the government functionaries/public bodies has more than once been discussed by the courts of law. In case Province of Punjab v. Qaisar Iqbal and others (PLD 2018 Lahore 198) Full Bench of this Court held as under: “61. Right to information and access to information in all matters of public importance is indisputably a fundamental right guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution. The right of information stems from the requirement that members of a democratic society should be sufficiently informed that they may influence intelligently the decision which may affect themselves. The people of Pakistan have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in public way, by their public functionaries and chosen representatives. People are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction, acquire information in all matters of public importance and to disseminate it. It enables people to contribute on debate on social and moral issues and matter of public importance. Without information, a democratic electorate cannot make responsible judgments about its representatives. Freedom of information is the only vehicle of political discourse so essential to democracy and it is equally important in facilitating artistic and scholarly endeavours of all sorts. In sum, the fundamental principle involved here is the people’s right to know and freedom of information and freedom of speech and expression should therefore, receive a generous support from all those who believe in democracy and the participation of people in the administration and matters of public importance.” In Hamid Mir and others v. Federation of Pakistan and others (PLD 2013 SC 244) the Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan held that in view of provisions of Article 19-A of the Constitution, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was obliged to disclose the nature and use of all funds allocated to it including the secret funds. A Division Bench of Sindh High Court in Saifan uz Zaman Khan v. Federation of Pakistan through Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Government of Pakistan, Islamabad and 7 others (PLD 2017 Sindh 559) held that right to information under Article 19-A of the Constitution was of immense value in promoting transparency by ensuring that citizens had knowledge of matters concerning public administration. 17. Right for information has also been recognized in India though not expressly and separately recognized, but the Courts there, have always interpreted right of freedom of expression, under Article 19 of Indian Constitution to include right of information. In case Sheela Barse v. Union of India (AIR 1986 Supreme Court 1773) R.I.T. has been very liberally interpreted, extended and given new dimensions by the Court while observing as under: “We are of the view that the petitioner should have access to information and should be permitted to visit jails, children’s home, remand homes, observation homes, borstal schools and all institutions connected with housing of delinquent or destitute children. We would like to point out that this is not an adversary litigation and the petitioner need not be looked upon as an adversary. She has in fact volunteered to do what the State should have done.” In case of Suri Dinesh Trivedi v. Union of India and others (1997 (4) SC 306), the Court Indian Supreme Court held as under:- “In modern constitutional democracies, it is axiomatic that citizens have a right to know about the affairs of the Government which, having been elected by them, seeks to formulate, sound policies of governance aimed at their welfare.” In case Peoples Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India (AIR 2003 Supreme Court 2363) the Court even observed as under: “The aforesaid passage leaves no doubt that right to participate by casting vote at the time of election would be meaningless unless the voters are well informed about all sides of the issues in respect of which they are called upon to express their views by casting their votes. Disinformation, misinformation, non-information all equally create a uniformed citizenry which would finally make democracy a mobocracy and farce.” 18. The Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 became effective on 16.12.2013 as such, as noted above, Public Information Officers ought to have been designated at the most by 16th of February, 2014 but, it is regrettable that, as submitted by the Chief Information Commissioner, so far P.I.O. are yet to be appointed in most of public/government offices. 19. For what has been discussed and observed above, this petition is allowed and the respondent departments are directed to provide requisite information to the petitioner within statutory period of 14 days under the Act. The Chief Information Commissioner, present in Court undertakes to ensure compliance of this order by the respondents. 20. A copy of this order be also sent to the Chief Secretary, Government of the Punjab, to take appropriate steps to ensure implementation of his earlier orders with regard to posting of public information officers and also ensure that the provisions of the Act are implemented in letter and spirit and any violation whereof be seriously noticed. It will be appreciated that on monthly basis progress report of public information officers of respective government departments be summoned and reviewed by the Secretary of Information and Culture Department, Govt. of Punjab. In addition to it an implementation Committee at provincial level may be constituted to examine and improve working of public information officers, take necessary measures for improvement of the working of the departments and to achieve the objects of the Act. Any recommendation/ orders of the C.I.C. in this regard be got implemented by the implementation Committee in public interest

 Petition allowed”

Notable Cases Under Article 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan 

Article 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan introduces a significant and fundamental right known as the Right to Information (RTI). This right, which is widely recognized as a crucial human right, is firmly rooted within the ambit of freedom of speech under international law. Pakistan’s commitment to this right is underscored by its status as a signatory to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, obligating the country to ensure this right for its citizens. Interestingly, despite its long-standing acknowledgment of freedom of speech through Article 19, the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan did not explicitly recognize access to information as a constitutional right. However, this landscape changed with the introduction of Article 19-A through the 18th Amendment in 2010.

Article 19-A unequivocally declares the right to information as a constitutional entitlement for every citizen of Pakistan. It proclaims, “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.” This constitutional provision has transformed the right to information into an essential facet of the democratic framework, ensuring that citizens have the means to access information that is of public significance.

To concretize this constitutional right, both federal and provincial governments have instituted laws that enable citizens to access public information and exercise their right to information. Pakistan’s journey towards a comprehensive legal framework for the right to information has been relatively recent. The initial efforts date back to 1990 when a Private Members Bill on this subject was introduced in the Senate, yet it was not given substantial attention. Over the years, there have been various initiatives, including recommendations for a freedom of information act by different governments, but implementation faced resistance from vested interests.

The turning point came in 1997 when the Freedom of Information Ordinance was promulgated under the care-taker Prime Minister Malik Meraj Khalid. However, subsequent governments did not prioritize enacting this ordinance, leading to its lapse. It wasn’t until 2002, during General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime, that Pakistan took a significant step by promulgating the Federal Freedom of Information Ordinance. This marked Pakistan as the first South Asian country to establish an RTI framework. The Federal FOI Ordinance, operationalized by the Freedom of Information Rules in 2004, remained in effect for 12 years until it was replaced by the Right to Information Act in 2013.

Despite this progress, the 2002 FOI Ordinance had notable limitations and was perhaps more a response to international obligations rather than a genuine commitment to promoting the fundamental right to access information. It laid the foundation for provincial laws in Baluchistan and Sindh, which also faced challenges in implementation due to inherent gaps.

Article 19-A has since become the cornerstone of Pakistan’s legal framework for RTI. It embodies the principle that citizens, as taxpayers, are the rightful owners of public information. The constitutional recognition of the right to information goes hand in hand with enhancing transparency, accountability, curbing corruption, and improving the delivery of public services. The Supreme Court’s rulings over the years have further cemented the importance of this right within Pakistan’s constitutional democracy.

In conclusion, the incorporation of Article 19-A into the Constitution of Pakistan marked a crucial juncture in the country’s commitment to ensuring citizens’ access to information. This right, now firmly enshrined within the fundamental rights framework, aligns with the principles of transparency, accountability, and participatory democracy. While Pakistan’s journey in this realm is relatively recent, the recognition and promotion of the right to information serve as a testament to the nation’s progress towards a more informed and empowered citizenry.

From the cases discussed below, several key takeaways regarding Article 19-A of the Constitution, which pertains to the right to information, can be summarized as follows:

  • Fundamental Right: Article 19-A of the Constitution establishes the right to information as a fundamental right for the citizens of Pakistan. This right enables citizens to access information in all matters of public importance, thereby promoting transparency, accountability, and informed decision-making.
  • Scope of Public Importance: The right to information is applicable to matters of public importance. This includes information related to government actions, decisions, policies, and affairs that affect the general public. Courts emphasize that this right extends to information that is relevant and significant to the public’s interests.
  • Access to Court Records: The right to information extends to court records as well. Citizens have the right to access information from court records, including documents related to legal cases in which they are parties. The right to access court records contributes to ensuring transparency and openness in the judicial process.
  • No Unreasonable Restrictions: While reasonable regulations can be imposed on the right to information to protect legitimate interests, the absence of regulations and restrictions should not render the right nugatory. The right to information remains available to citizens, and efforts to provide access to information should be upheld.
  • Transparency and Accountability: The right to information serves as a means to enhance transparency and accountability in government and public affairs. Citizens have the right to be informed about the actions and decisions made by public functionaries, officials, and representatives.
  • Democratic Participation: Access to information is crucial for meaningful democratic participation. Citizens’ ability to access information enables them to make well-informed decisions, engage in political discourse, and hold public officials accountable for their actions.
  • Judicial Review and Enforcement: The right to information can be enforced through judicial review. Courts have the authority to take suo motu actions to ensure that citizens’ right to information is protected and upheld. This involves reviewing cases where access to information is denied or restricted.
  • Protection of Independence and Integrity: The right to information is intertwined with the protection of the independence and integrity of institutions, including the judiciary. Citizens’ access to information contributes to preventing undue influence, corruption, and impropriety in public affairs.
  • Purposeful Use of Inquisitorial Powers: Courts, while exercising their inquisitorial powers, can probe and inquire into matters of public importance to uphold citizens’ right to information. Such powers are exercised purposefully to achieve transparency and accountability.
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In summary, the cases discussed below highlight the significance of Article 19-A in ensuring citizens’ access to information, promoting transparency in government actions, and enhancing democratic participation. The right to information serves as a cornerstone of responsible governance and citizen empowerment in Pakistan.Many times you will see an overlap of cases of Article 19A with matters of Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan

Case: LABBAIK (PVT.) LTD. vs. FEDERATION OF PAKISTAN

Citation: 2023 CLC 398 (Karachi High Court – Sindh)

In this case, the Karachi High Court of Sindh considered the interplay between freedom of speech, expression, and information as guaranteed by Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution. The court acknowledged that while the Constitution safeguards the freedom of speech, it also places limitations, including restrictions related to contempt of court. Similarly, the rights enshrined in Article 19-A, which grants citizens the right to access information on matters of public importance, are also subject to regulations and reasonable restrictions imposed by law. The court recognized that such restrictions and enactments are not unique to Pakistan and are consistent with global norms.

Case: MUHAMMAD AZAM KHAN SWATI vs. FEDERATION OF PAKISTAN

Citation: 2023 PLD 184 (Islamabad High Court)

In this case, the Islamabad High Court addressed a constitutional petition concerning the right to information and the issuance of directions to provinces in specific cases. The petitioner sought information about pending cases against him in the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan, as well as with the Federal Investigation Agency, relating to social media tweets concerning the Armed Forces of Pakistan. The court examined the petitioner’s reliance on Entry No. 18 of Schedule II of the Rules of Business, 1973, and Article 149 of the Constitution, which empowers the Federal Government to issue directions to provinces. The court held that Entry No. 18 did not confer an individual right to seek information on case pendency. It clarified that stretching the concepts provided in Article 149 and the Rules of Business did not entitle the petitioner to such information. The court highlighted the petitioner’s right to appropriate legal remedies and emphasized the need for jurisdictional considerations.

Case: JUSTICE QAZI FAEZ ISA vs. The PRESIDENT OF PAKISTAN

Citation: 2021 PLD 595 (Supreme Court)

In this case, the Supreme Court dealt with the constitutionality and permissibility of broadcasting or live streaming court proceedings. The review petitions before the Court challenged directions given to tax authorities to inquire into foreign assets of the petitioner judge’s family members. The petitioner-judge sought live coverage of his review petition proceedings. The Court, in its majority view, recognized the public’s right to access information in matters of public importance under Article 19-A of the Constitution. It indicated that details and modalities would be determined by the Full Court administratively. A concurring judge stressed that public access to court proceedings was a fundamental right under Article 19-A and directed the Registrar to take necessary steps to effectuate this right. The minority view emphasized that Article 19-A imposed an obligation on state institutions, including the judiciary, to ensure access to information. The Court directed live streaming of court hearings on the official website, taking into account the technological infrastructure available.

Case: FEDERAL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES HOUSING FOUNDATION (FGEHF), ISLAMABAD vs. Malik GHULAM MUSTAFA

Citation: 2021 SCMR 201 (Supreme Court)

In this case, the Supreme Court examined the scope of the right to information under Article 19-A, alongside Articles 205 and 260(1) of the Constitution. The case revolved around the distribution of state land among individuals in service of Pakistan, including members of the Armed Forces and judges of the superior judiciary. The Court emphasized that neither the Constitution nor any law provided for such distribution. The Court observed that keeping information regarding the distribution of state land from the public was unconstitutional. The Court highlighted that the goal of creating an egalitarian society was undermined when public land was covertly transferred into private ownership. The Court’s ruling also extended to sending copies of the judgment to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) for unimpeded broadcast, given its role in optimizing the free flow of information.

Case: LUQMAN HABIB vs. FEDERATION OF PAKISTAN

Citation: 2021 MLD 1633 (Lahore High Court – Lahore)

In this case, the Lahore High Court explored the reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and information under Articles 19 and 19-A. The case centered around the issue of defying religious thoughts and the concept of “glory of Islam.” The Court held that the term “right of expression” could not be stretched to undermine religious thoughts or sacred figures of one’s religion. The Court emphasized that while freedom of expression and information were important, they should not be used as tools to defy religious beliefs. The Court highlighted that freedom of expression, speech, tolerance, and respect should be harmonious.

Case: SUO MOTU CASE NO. 4 OF 2021

Citation: 2021 SCMR 1602 (Supreme Court)

In this suo motu case, the Supreme Court addressed concerns related to the independence of the press and media. The Court took note of harassment, intimidation, and attacks on journalists, as well as issues regarding media houses and television channels favoring particular political narratives for government advertisements. The Court’s observations and directions underscored the importance of a free press and media independence in a democratic society.

Case: SHAHID AKBAR ABBASI vs. The CHIEF COMMISSIONER, ISLAMABAD

Citation: 2021 PLD 1 (Islamabad)

In this case, the Islamabad High Court delved into the scope of freedom of expression and free speech under Articles 19 and 19-A, along with the Anti-Terrorism Act. The case revolved around the abduction of a journalist by individuals in police uniform, raising concerns of enforced disappearance and violation of fundamental rights. The Court stressed that the incident, caught on CCTV cameras, should be treated as a case of enforced disappearance unless disproven during investigations. The Court highlighted the significance of free speech and journalists in a democratic society. The Court’s observations emphasized the importance of transparent and diligent investigations to ensure the safety of journalists exposing the truth.

Case: Hafiz HAMDULLAH SABOOR vs. GOVERNMENT OF PAKISTAN

Citation: 2021 PLD 305 (Islamabad)

In this case, the Islamabad High Court examined the interplay between freedom of speech and the right to information under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution. The petitioner challenged an order issued by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) that restrained TV channels from featuring the petitioner in their programs, talk shows, news, etc. The Court found that such restraint was an obvious misuse of authority granted by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance, 2000, and it infringed upon the rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution. The Court declared the impugned order by PEMRA to be illegal and without authority.

Case: JURISTS FOUNDATION vs. FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

Citation: 2020 PLD 1 (Supreme Court)

In this case, the Supreme Court dealt with a constitutional petition relating to the tenure and extension of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). The Court deliberated on the maintainability of the petition under Articles 9, 19-A, 27, 243(4)(b), and 245 of the Constitution. The Court emphasized the crucial role of the armed forces in defending the country and upholding constitutional values. The appointment of the COAS was linked to citizens’ life, security, and liberty, making it a question of grave public importance. The Court acknowledged that in the modern era of information, the issues raised in the petition also attracted the fundamental right to information under Article 19-A. As a result, the Court held the petition to be maintainable.

Case: Hakeem MUHAMMAD SAEED vs. DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, VEHARI

Citation: 2020 PLD 110 (Lahore High Court – Lahore)

In this case, the Lahore High Court explored the scope of the right to information under Article 19-A. The case centered around the significance of the right to information as a citizen’s entitlement to access information from government bodies that received public funds. The Court emphasized that the right to information was based on the principle that information belonged to the people. This right not only enhanced transparency but also strengthened accountability, reduced corruption, and improved the delivery of public services. The Court recognized access to information as a prerequisite for ensuring transparency and accountability of governments, guarding against mismanagement and corruption.

Case: QUAID-E-AZAM THERMAL PRIVATE LIMITED vs. FEDERAL BOARD OF REVENUE

Citation: 2020 PTD 165 (Lahore High Court – Lahore)

In this case, the Lahore High Court delved into fundamental rights, specifically the right to a fair trial, the right to information, and the right of individuals to be dealt with in accordance with the law. The Court emphasized that Articles 10A and 19A of the Constitution guaranteed the disclosure of necessary information and the provision of a fair opportunity to individuals subjected to coercive measures under relevant legal provisions. The Court further highlighted that Article 4 of the Constitution recognized the right to procedural due process, fair treatment at all times, and procedural propriety. Article 4 was viewed as a robust embodiment of principles of natural justice, procedural fairness, and procedural propriety, safeguarding citizens’ immutable rights.

Case: MOHSIN ABBAS vs. AIR WAVES MEDIA (PVT.) LTD.

Citation: 2020 PLD 400 (Karachi High Court – Sindh)

In this case, the Karachi High Court examined the freedom of speech and press, particularly in the context of electronic media. The Court emphasized that while freedom of speech and press, including electronic media, is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution, it is not an absolute right. Instead, it is subject to reasonable restrictions as specified in Article 19 itself. Furthermore, the Court highlighted that the right to access information in matters of public importance, guaranteed under Article 19-A of the Constitution, is also subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.

Case: KHADIM HUSSAIN vs. SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Citation: 2020 PLD 268 (Islamabad)

In this case, the Islamabad High Court considered the duty of the State towards prisoners in the context of Article 19-A and the Pakistan Prisons Rules, 1978. The Court emphasized the State’s obligation to inform prisoners about their rights, especially those outlined in the Jail Manual. The Court held that the duty of the State to provide prisoners with information about their rights was implicit in Article 19-A of the Constitution, given the State’s fiduciary duty towards individuals in its custody. The High Court directed the Implementation Commission to propose mechanisms for making prisoners aware of their rights and the standards set out in the Jail Manual.

Case: HAPPY MANUFACTURING CO. (PVT.) LTD. vs. FEDERAL BOARD OF REVENUE

Citation: 2019 PTD 1922 (Lahore High Court – Lahore)

In this case, the Lahore High Court examined the right to information under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution. The Court affirmed that the right of information is a fundamental right of every citizen. It emphasized that people have the right to know about public acts and everything done in public by public functionaries. However, the Court noted that this right is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law, as specified in Articles 19 and 19-A.

Case: Right to Information and Public Interest

Citation: 2017 PLD 559 (Karachi High Court – Sindh)

This case delved into the intersection of the right to life, right to information, and public interest litigation. The petitioner, an investigative journalist, challenged the proposed acquisition of shares by a foreign buyer, alleging harm to public interest and contravention of relevant laws. The court clarified that not every private transaction could be scrutinized under the banner of “public interest.” While the right to information promotes transparency, it does not imply that every private commercial transaction can be subjected to court scrutiny. The court noted that there are regulatory authorities responsible for overseeing such matters, and courts should refrain from intervening in private transactions unless a genuine public wrong or injury is established.

Case: Accountability and Freedom of Information

Citation: 2013 SCMR 1880 (Supreme Court)

This case delves into the concept of accountability, particularly in relation to media and public funds. The court recognized that information related to public funds is a matter of public importance. The case emphasizes that the government, as a custodian of public funds, is accountable for their proper utilization. The court highlighted the importance of ensuring that government expenditure aligns with the objectives set out in the Constitution and statutes enacted by the legislature. The case underscores that any restrictions on disclosing expenses made from public funds should be reasonable and justiciable under the Constitution.

Case: Accountability of Government Spending

Citation: 2013 SCMR 1880 (Supreme Court)

This case addresses the accountability of government spending and the use of public funds. The court highlighted that public funds should be utilized in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws. The case emphasized that all funds in the state exchequer are derived from the people’s pockets, and the government is accountable for their proper expenditure. The court underlined that restrictions on disclosing expenses from public funds should not be arbitrary and should align with the Constitution. The case also addressed the issue of “secret service funds” and emphasized that they should not be exempt from audit by the Auditor General of Pakistan.

Case: Right to Access Information about Candidates

Citation: 2013 SCMR 862 (Supreme Court)

This case highlights the fundamental right of voters to access information about candidates contesting in general elections. The court recognized that citizens, as voters, have the right to access information related to a candidate’s credentials and antecedents. The court emphasized that this right is rooted in the principle of ensuring informed voting and the democratic process. The court directed the Election Commission to make nomination papers available on their website and also provide a procedure for electors/voters to obtain a copy of the nomination paper for raising objections, subject to a prescribed fee.

Case: Right to Information and Secret Funds

Citation: 2013 PLD 244 (Supreme Court)

In this case, the court emphasized the scope of the right to information and its relation to the utilization of secret funds in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The court held that the Ministry is obligated to disclose the nature and use of all funds allocated to it, including secret funds, in line with the provisions of Article 19A of the Constitution. This case underlines the importance of transparency in government operations and the public’s right to access information.

Case: Right to Information in Education

Citation: 2012 PLC(CS) 620 (Karachi High Court – Sindh)

This case focuses on the right to information in matters of public importance, particularly in the context of education. The court emphasized that citizens have the right to access information, especially related to educational institutions, certificates, and degrees. The court encouraged institutions, boards, and universities to make necessary information available on their websites, facilitating easy verification for concerned individuals.

Case: Right to Information on Matters of Public Importance

Citation: 2012 PLD 292 (Supreme Court)

This case highlights the scope of the right to information on matters of public importance. The court recognized that events such as the contents of a published memo and related allegations were matters of public importance. The court emphasized that petitions aimed at enforcing fundamental rights, including the right to information, were maintainable under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. The case underscores the court’s role in ensuring access to information on significant public issues.

Case: Independence of Judicial Probe in Information Matters

Citation: 2012 PLD 292 (Supreme Court)

This case revolves around the concept of judicial inquiry and the independence of the judiciary in matters of public importance, particularly in the context of the right to information. The court emphasized that the truth is critical for a nation’s progress and that the court’s role is to ensure the availability of true information to the citizens. The court rejected the notion of adjusting opinions based on anticipated consequences and stressed that the court’s duty is to uphold fundamental rights without limiting or trivializing their scope.

Case: Justiciability of Enforcing the Right to Information

Citation: 2012 PLD 292 (Supreme Court)

This case addresses the justiciability of enforcing the right to information, especially in matters of public importance. The court rejected the argument that the petitions raised political questions, emphasizing that the petitions sought to enforce the people’s right to know the truth rather than dictate foreign policy. The court affirmed that the right to information is fully justiciable and falls within the purview of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

Case: Constitution of Commission for Judicial Probe

Citation: 2012 PLD 292 (Supreme Court)

In this case, the court established a high-powered commission to conduct a judicial probe into a matter of public importance related to the contents of a published memo. The court asserted its powers to initiate proceedings for the enforcement of fundamental rights and emphasized the importance of a thorough judicial inquiry. The commission, led by experienced judicial officers, was tasked with ascertaining the origin, authenticity, and purpose of the memo.

Case: Right to Information and State Governance

Citation: 2012 PLD 292 (Supreme Court)

This case underscores the significance of the right to information in the context of responsible state governance. The court highlighted that Article 19A of the Constitution empowers citizens with the right to access information, reducing dependence on external sources for critical information. The court emphasized that this right fills a crucial gap in responsible state governance and ensures transparency.

Case: Right to Access Information in Matters of Public Importance

Citation: 2012 CLC 16 (Karachi High Court – Sindh)

This case reaffirms the scope of the right to access information in matters of public importance. The court asserted that every citizen of Pakistan has the right to access information on all matters of public importance. This further reinforces the fundamental nature of the right to information and its role in ensuring transparency and accountability.

Case: People’s Right to Access Information

Citation: 2012 PLD 664 (Supreme Court)

In this case, the court highlighted the importance of the people’s right to access information about matters of public importance. The court clarified that while it does not intend to pass final judgments on guilt or innocence, its role is to uphold the people’s right to know and access information. The case underscores the court’s commitment to ensuring transparency and accountability through the enforcement of fundamental rights.

Case: Right to Information in Matters of Public Importance

Citation: 2012 PLD 664 (Supreme Court)

This case highlights the importance of the right to information in matters of public importance. The Supreme Court took suo motu action under Article 184(3) of the Constitution in response to allegations of a business deal between a businessman and the son of the serving Chief Justice of Pakistan, which attempted to influence the judicial process. The court asserted that the issue raised concerns about the independence and integrity of the judiciary, making it a matter of public importance. The court deemed it necessary to address the issue to ensure citizens’ right to accurate information and transparency in a matter of grave national significance.

Case: Right to Information in the Context of Shareholders’ Petitions

Citation: 2011 PLD 177 (Karachi High Court – Sindh)

This case deals with shareholders’ petitions seeking information from a private limited company that had not declared dividends for an extended period. The court emphasized that Article 19-A of the Constitution is applicable when information sought is of public importance. In this context, the court concluded that the information regarding the operation of the company was not of significance to the general public and did not fall under the purview of the right to information. The court dismissed the constitutional petition on the grounds that it was not maintainable.

Case: Availability of Right to Information despite Absence of Regulations

Citation: 2011 CLD 496 (Karachi High Court – Sindh)

This case reiterates that Article 19-A of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to information, is applicable when a particular piece of information is of public importance. The court clarified that the absence of regulations and restrictions does not render the right to information nugatory. Instead, citizens retain the right to access information even in the absence of specific regulations or restrictions.

Case: Role of Electronic Media and Access to Information

Citation: 2010 SCMR 1849 (Supreme Court)

This case underscores the significance of electronic media in upholding fundamental rights. The court emphasized that the weight attached to electronic media originates from the fundamental rights of freedom of speech, expression, and press guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution. Additionally, the right of citizens to access information in matters of public importance, as provided by Article 19-A of the Constitution, is equally important for a transparent society.

Case: Public Interest Litigation and Right to Information

Citation: 2010 PLD 605 (Lahore High Court – Lahore)

In this case, the court discusses how Article 19-A of the Constitution empowers civil society in Pakistan to seek information from public institutions and hold them accountable. The court affirmed that Article 19-A infuses new life into public interest litigation, enabling concerned citizens to seek information and engage in issues of public importance. The traditional rule of standing or locus standi for maintaining petitions under public interest litigation was deemed inapplicable in light of this provision.

Case: Right to Information Regarding Certified Copies of Court Documents

Citation: 2010 YLR 2615 (Lahore High Court – Lahore)

This case revolves around the appellant’s request for certified copies of certain documents that were part of a court case’s record in the High Court. The documents were related to a legal matter in which the appellant was a party. The court affirmed that the appellant had a right to access information as guaranteed under Article 19-A of the Constitution. Since the appellant was involved in the case, and the documents were part of the record open to inspection, there was no valid reason for the non-supply of the documents to the appellant. The court directed the office to issue certified copies of the requested documents to the appellant, in accordance with the law, and thereafter reseal the record.

Case: Significance of Right to Information as a Fundamental Right

Citation: 2018 PLD 198 (Lahore High Court – Lahore)

This case underscores the fundamental nature and significance of the right to information and access to information in all matters of public importance. The court affirmed that this right is indisputably a fundamental right guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution. The court emphasized that the right to information arises from the need for members of a democratic society to be well-informed so that they can intelligently influence decisions that affect them. It stressed that citizens have a right to know about public actions, decisions made by public officials and representatives, and the administration of the country in all matters of public importance. This transparency is fundamental to a democratic state and is crucial for responsible decision-making by the electorate. The court highlighted that freedom of information, freedom of speech, and expression are essential for democracy and should receive support from those who believe in democratic principles and public participation in governance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the cases discussed provide valuable insights into the intricate landscape of accessing information under the various legislative instruments (federal and provincial) on Transparency and Right to Information as well as on Article 19-A of the Pakistani Constitution. These legal battles illuminate the challenges individuals and organizations face when seeking transparency from public bodies. The principles established by the courts underscore the importance of the right to information as a cornerstone of democracy, accountability, and good governance.

From the cases, it is evident that the right to information is not just a legal provision, but a fundamental tool for citizens to hold governments and public bodies accountable. The courts have emphasized that transparency must be the norm, while secrecy should be the exception. This sentiment aligns with the broader understanding that an informed citizenry is crucial for fostering trust, curbing corruption, and promoting responsible governance.

However, practical problems persist. Delays, misinterpretation of exceptions, bureaucratic hurdles, and the lack of clarity in regulations can impede the effective exercise of this right. The cases reveal a complex interplay between public interest, the administration of justice, and the need to strike a balance between competing interests.

It is imperative that both individuals seeking information and public bodies responsible for providing it are well-informed about their rights and obligations. A robust and accessible system for redress is essential to ensure that denials of information are subject to thorough review. Moreover, efforts to raise awareness about the right to information and the mechanisms available to enforce it can empower citizens to navigate these challenges.

As legal practitioners, professionals, and advocates, there is a shared responsibility to address these practical problems. By championing transparency, demanding clear regulations, and promoting public awareness, we can contribute to a more accountable and open society. Through collaborative efforts, we can navigate the intricate legal landscape, ensuring that the right to information is upheld as a vital tool for a thriving democracy and effective governance.

By The Josh and Mak Team

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