From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Sealed Cover Jurisprudence
Mains level : Not Much
Central idea: The Supreme Court has said it did not want to accept in a “sealed cover” the Centre’s suggestions on who could be the members of a committee the court had proposed to assess the market regulatory framework and recommend measures, if any, to strengthen it in the wake of the Adani-Hindenburg affair.
What is the news?
- The article is about a public interest petition filed in the Supreme Court that calls for the establishment of an expert panel to strengthen regulatory mechanisms related to the Adani Group.
- The petitioners argue that the Adani Group has been able to bypass regulatory hurdles through its influence on government officials and agencies.
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.
- 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.
Need for sealed cover jurisprudence
There are several reasons why sealed cover jurisprudence is used-
- National security: For example, in cases involving sensitive information related to defense or intelligence agencies, the disclosure of such information in open court proceedings could compromise national security.
- Individual privacy: It is also used to protect the privacy in cases involving sensitive personal information. In such cases, the court may allow the submission of such information in a sealed cover to protect the privacy of the individual concerned.
- Protect commercial or trade secrets: In cases involving disputes between companies, the disclosure of confidential information related to their business operations could harm their commercial interests.
Nature of the power: Upholding Secrecy
- 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.
- There is an exception to this 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.
Grounds of such secrecy
Other instances where information may be sought in secrecy or confidence is when its publication:
- Impedes an ongoing investigation of cases related to national security
- Details that are part of the police’s case diary or
- Breaches the privacy of an individual
Prominent cases of sealed jurisprudence
Sealed cover jurisprudence has been frequently employed by courts in the recent past.
(1) Rafale Deal
- In the case pertaining to the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal, a Bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi in 2018, had asked the Centre to submit details related to deal’s decision making and pricing in a sealed cover.
- This was done as the Centre had contended that such details were subject to the Official Secrets Act and Secrecy clauses in the deal.
(2) Bhima Koregaon Case
- In the Bhima Koregaon case, in which 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.
Issues with such jurisprudence
- Undermines open justice: This practice appears to be unfavorable to the principles of transparency and accountability of the Indian justice system.
- Erodes public faith: It stands in contrast to the idea of an open court, where decisions can be subjected to public scrutiny.
- Increases arbitrariness: It is also said to enlarge the scope for arbitrariness in court decisions, as judges are supposed to lay down the reasoning for their decisions.
- Unfair trials: Besides, it is argued that not providing access to such documents to the accused parties obstructs their passage to a fair trial and adjudication.
- Conduct an independent and thorough investigation: Inquire into the allegations raised in the petition, and take appropriate legal action against the Adani Group if they are found to have violated environmental regulations.
- Establish an expert panel as suggested by the petitioners: To review the regulatory framework and suggest measures to strengthen it. The panel should include experts from various fields, including environmental science, law, and economics.
- Ensure transparency and accountability in the regulatory process: Foster a culture of environmental awareness and responsibility among businesses by promoting sustainable and eco-friendly practices. This could involve providing incentives and support to companies that adopt such practices.
- Review the use of sealed cover jurisprudence: Ensure that it is used judiciously and only in cases where it is necessary to protect sensitive or confidential information.
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