4 January 2014
Human Rights in Pakistan have come a long way. When the National Assembly of Pakistan undertook the drafting of the Constitution in the early 1970’s, it was inevitable that it could not be oblivious to the international trends towards strengthening Rule of Law in domestic regimes. Influenced by these developments, at the regional and international level and, undoubtedly, by national experiences, the 1973 Constitution made a commendable commitment to the declaration and protection of a broad range of fundamental rights covering the right to life, safeguards against arrest and deletion, right to dignity, freedom of movement, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of trade, business, or profession, freedom of speech and freedom to profess religion, and the right to acquire, hold and dispose of property. Equality of citizens and provisions on non-discrimination are also included in the Fundamental Rights.
For this post, we will briefly evaluate the right of Freedom of Information in light of the provisions of the Constitution of Pakistan.
Freedom of Information and the Constitution of Pakistan
Article 19A was inserted in the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 (the “Constitution”) by Section 7 of the Constitution (Eighteenth Amendment) Act, 2010:
7. Insertion of new Article in the Constitution:
In the Constitution, after Article 19, the following new Article shall be inserted, namely:
“19A. 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.”
Similarly, the Eighteenth Amendment also added Article 10A on the right to a fair trial and due process:
10A. Right to fair trial.—For the determination of his civil rights and obligations or in any criminal charge against him a person shall be entitled to a fair trial and due process.
Article 19A confers on all citizens a right to have access to information in all matters of public importance, subject, however, first to regulations and secondly to reasonable restrictions by law.
This right would be essential for a fair trial and due process guaranteed by Article 10A. Non-framing of the regulations cannot have the effect of rendering the right under Article 19A as nugatory. Therefore, even if no regulations are framed, this right is available to all the citizens. In the absence of regulations and in the absence of restrictions, the court is required to determine whether a request for information in a particular case or a denial of information in a particular case is reasonable or with lawful authority or not. But the Article also provides that it must be in “matters of public importance”. Accordingly, it must be a matter in which the public at large or at least a substantial section of population is interested (see, Muhammad Masood Butt vs. S.M. Corporation (Pvt.) Limited, PLD 2011 Karachi 177).
Acknowledgment: The above is part of the research conducted for the Paper presented at the First Asia Pacific International Colloquium on Environmental Rule of Law organized by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), and held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 11-12 December 2013 by Dr. Parvez Hassan (B.A. (Punjab), LL.B. (Punjab), LL.M. (Yale), S.J.D. (Harvard), Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of Pakistan, Senior Partner, Hassan & Hassan (Advocates), Lahore, and President, Pakistan Environmental Law Association)
Myra Khan Qureshi is a Barrister-at-Law from the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and Vice Chairperson Women Rights Committee of the Lahore High Court Bar Association. She is currently practicing law in Lahore, Pakistan.
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