High Court: No jurisdiction to hear appeals over Information Commissioner’s decisions

Information Commissioner Hussain Fiyaz.

The High Court ruled on Sunday it does not have the jurisdiction to hear appeals over decisions by the Information Commissioner.

The ruling comes in an appeal lodged by Male’ Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) over the Information Commissioner’s decision in a case lodged with his office by Moosa Naseem (Noovillage, Mukurimagu, L. Gan) over failure of the company to provide access to an audit report which was referenced in his letter of dismissal from MWSC in November 2019.

 Naseem lodged the case with the Information Commissioner’s Office after MWSC failed to respond to his letter seeking the audit report within 21 days.

The Information Commissioner, after hearing the case, instructed MWSC to grant Naseem access to the information he requested.

MWSC appealed the decision with the High Court, and Naseem joined the case.

During the first hearing in the case, the High Court said that the appeal by MWSC was not lodged in accordance with the policies on High Court’s jurisdiction declared under Judicature Act, and questioned the parties involved whether the court has legal grounds to hear the case.

According to the Judicature Act, the High Court can hear cases either as a first instance court – in types of cases specifically declared in the Constitution - or as an appellant court – in cases involving decisions by lower courts or tribunals established under a law – where a party involved may feel the decision to be made in contravention to the Constitution or laws or regulations.

According to Right to Information Act, where a party involved disputes a decision by the Information Commissioner, the disgruntled party reserves the right to lodge an appeal with the High Court within 30 days after the decision is made or should have been made. The Act also states that under such circumstances, the burden of proving the decision of the Information Commissioner to be wrong falls on the party who lodged the case against the Information Commissioner.

 The High Court said on Sunday that the Right to Information Act does not declare the court’s jurisdiction or authority to hear appeals.

The High Court said that the opportunity for appeal under the Act is an opportunity awarded to parties who dispute the Information Commissioner’s decisions, and that the court therefore needs to fall back on Judicature Act.

The High Court noted that according to Judicature Act, the court has appellant jurisdiction over decisions by either lower courts and tribunals.

The law defines tribunals as institutions that aren’t courts, with legal authority to judge, adjudicate on, or determine claims or disputes.

The High Court said the Right to Information Act mentions decisions by the “Information Commissioner”. The court said that the Information Commissioner is not a tribunal, and that the court could have heard the appeal if the Act mentioned decisions by Information Commissioner’s Office and not Information Commissioner.

The High Court said that the Act providing the opportunity for parties unhappy with Information Commissioner’s decisions to appeal with the High Court serves no true purpose without providing the court with the legal authority to hear such cases.

The High Court said the purpose of the Right to Information Act is not to provide the opportunity to lodge appeals, but to provide everyone with the right to obtain and receive information in accordance with the Act.

The court said it is not appropriate to attempt to expand the meaning of a word, phrase or sentence on the Act or include greater meaning than exists.

The court said that the High Court would therefore be overreaching if they were to make presumptions and treat “Information Commissioner” as an institution and hear the appeal.

The High Court noted that there is no legal obstacle to appealing cases which the court decides they have no jurisdiction to hear with the Supreme Court.

The decision by the three-member bench which oversaw the case – Judge Mohamed Faisal, Judge Mohamed Niyaz and Judge Hussain Shaheed – was unanimous.