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Sealed Cover Jurisprudence is Appalling

Context

Kerela High Court recently dismissed an appeal by the MediaOne, a television channel whose license was not renewed based upon ‘National Security’ concerns.

Relevance

GS-II: Indian Constitution—Historical Underpinnings, Evolution, Features, Amendments, Significant Provisions and Basic Structure.

GS-II: Structure, Organization and Functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary—Ministries and Departments of the Government; Pressure Groups and Formal/Informal Associations and their Role in the Polity.

Dimensions of the Article

  • What is Sealed Cover Jurisprudence?
  • Judicial Stand on Sealed Cover Jurisprudence
  • Why is Sealed Cover Jurisprudence a concern?
  • Way Forward

What is Sealed Cover Jurisprudence?

  • It is a method of asking or receiving information by the Courts from the executive in envelopes which are accessible only by the judges. The envelopes are sealed and hence the term Sealed Cover Jurisprudence.
  • There is no specific law that defines that Doctrine of Sealed Cover Jurisprudence, however Supreme Court derives this power from Rule XIII of the Supreme Court Rules and Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.
  • Recent Examples – Rafale Case, Bhima Koregaon Case, BCCI Reforms Case, etc.

Judicial Stand on the Sealed Cover Jurisprudence

  • Sealed Cover Jurisprudence has come under heavy criticism from the courts themselves.
  • Supreme Court has declared that Judicial Review is the Basic Feature of the Constitution and that if executive is restricting a fundamental right then it must pass the test of reasonable restrictions. This principle is the bedrock of Judicial Review.
  • This has been iterated in the Minerva Mills Case and L. Chandra Kumar vs. Union of India Case.
  • Legality of an action which infringes upon a fundamental right needs to be examined from the lens of proportionality. This has been adopted in the Modern Dental College Case and was reiterated in the Puttaswamy Judgment.
  • However, High Courts have sidelined these principles and have relied on Digi Cable Network Case where the court declared that Principle of Natural Justice may be overlooked in the matters concerning national security.
  • Supreme Court with its recent judgment in the Pegasus Case has stated that State can’t be given a free run every time the matter of National Security is raised.
  • It also said that ‘National Security can’t be the bugbear that judiciary shies away from, by virtue of its mere mentioning.’
  • Several cases such as the INX Media Case have prompted Supreme Court to take corrective action as High Courts have preferred the path of Sealed Cover Jurisprudence.

Why is Sealed Cover Jurisprudence a concern?

  • Violates Principle of Natural Justice.
  • Chilling effect on Judicial Review and its principles. Eg. Test of Proportionality and Reasonable Restrictions.
  • Hampers Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression and also the Rights to Association, Occupation and Business.
  • Gives blanket immunity to the state in matters of National Security without scrutiny.
  • Application of previous judgments in the form of a statute.
  • Curbing dissent and reactionary voices in the democracy.

Way Forward

A balance needs to be sought between the protection of confidential information via Sealed Cover jurisprudence and protection of Fundamental Rights in a democracy. Courts need to lay down guidelines for future for the use of this doctrine. Blanket usage puts democracy at risk and hints towards democratic decay. India which claims to be the largest democracy of the world can’t afford to hamper its democratic credentials and courts must do their best to eradicate such possibilities.

Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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