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Sealed Cover Jurisprudence

Context:

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India last month criticised the practice of “sealed cover” jurisprudence as setting a “dangerous precedent”, which makes “the process of adjudication vague and opaque”.

Relevance:

GS II- Executive & Judiciary

Dimensions of the article::

  1. What is sealed cover jurisprudence? 
  2. When has it been done in the past? 
  3. Criticism

What is sealed cover jurisprudence? 

  • It is a practice used by the Supreme Court and sometimes lower courts, of asking for or accepting information from government agencies in sealed envelopes that can only be accessed by judges.
  • While a specific law does not define the doctrine of sealed cover, the Supreme Court derives its power to use it from Rule 7 of order XIII of the Supreme Court Rules and Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.
  • It is stated under the said rule that if the Chief Justice or court directs certain information to be kept under sealed cover or considers it of confidential nature, no party would be allowed access to the contents of such information, except if the Chief Justice himself orders that the opposite party be allowed to access it.

It also mentions that information can be kept confidential if its

  • publication is not considered to be in the interest of the public.
  • As for the Evidence Act, official unpublished documents relating to state affairs are protected and a public officer cannot be compelled to disclose such documents.
  • Other instances where information may be sought in secrecy or confidence is when its publication impedes an ongoing investigation, such as details which are part of the police’s case diary; or breaches the privacy of an individual.

When has it been done in the past? 

 Rafale fighter jet deal,
  • A Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi in 2018, had asked the Centre to submit details related to deal’s decision making and pricing in a sealed cover. T
  • his was done as the Centre had contended that such details were subject to the Official Secrets Act and Secrecy clauses in the deal.
National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam,
  • The supreme court mandated coordinator of the NRC, Prateek Hajela, was asked by the apex court to submit period reports in sealed cover, which could neither be accessed by the government nor the petitioners.
In the 2014 BCCI reforms case
  • The probe committee of the cricket body had submitted its report to the Supreme Court in a sealed envelope, asking it not to make public the names of nine cricketers who were suspected of a match and spot fixing scam.
Bhima Koregaon case,
  • Activists were arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the Supreme Court had relied on information submitted by the Maharashtra police in a sealed cover.

Criticism:

  • Critics of this practice contend that it is not favorable to the principles of transparency and accountability of the Indian justice system.
  • It stands in contrast to the idea of an open court, where decisions can be subjected to public scrutiny.
  • It is also said to enlarge the scope for arbitrariness in court decisions, as judges are supposed to lay down reasoning for their decisions.
  • Besides, it is argued that not providing access to such documents to the accused parties obstructs their passage to a fair trial and adjudication.

-Source: The Hindu


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