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Gov’t must disclose its legal opinions, says CIC vs Vahanvati

The Central Information Commission (CIC) ruled that the government’s internal legal opinions should be made public under Right to Information (RTI) requests, which could result in Swan Telecom facing investigation by the ministry of corporate affairs in the 2G spectrum scandal, reported Mint today.

CIC said that there was no lawyer-client fiduciary duty between law officers giving legal opinions to the government and a larger public interest was at stake in disclosing it. This means it would not be covered under the exemption of Section 8 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005.

In May 2010 an RTI application by activist Subash Chandra Agarwal was seeking disclosure of a legal opinion given by ex-solicitor general Goolam Vahanvati, which said that Swan Telecom would not need to be investigated by the ministry of corporate affairs (MCA), which Vahanvati later denied issuing.

In response to the RTI, Vahanvati opined for the law ministry that his original opinion was exempt from disclosure, because it was issued in a fiduciary duty.

But the CIC said that Vahanvati’s reliance on section 8 and the principle of fiduciary relationship was “incorrect” and “untenable”.

In December 2011 Agarwal also claimed that Vahanvati had improperly provided advice without a mandatory reference from the law ministry, when the then solicitor general opined that the Minority Affairs Ministry (MAM) was exempt from responding to an RTI application seeking letters exchanged between the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues in the MAM.

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