In News: A Bench led by (now) Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud criticised the practice of “sealed cover” jurisprudence.
- In its order issued in ‘Cdr Amit Kumar Sharma v Union of India’ on October 20, 2022, SC called it as setting a “dangerous precedent”, which makes “the process of adjudication vague and opaque”.
Sealed cover jurisprudence:
- It is the controversial practice followed by the Supreme Court (and sometimes lower courts as well) of seeking and accepting information from government agencies in sealed envelopes that can only be perused by the judges.
- It is found in Rule 7 of Order XIII (“Copying”) of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 (notified in May 2014)
- Applicability: When information is connected to an ongoing investigation, and when it involves personal or confidential information.
- Effect: The sealed cover procedure affects the functioning of the justice delivery system both at an individual case- to case level and at an institutional level.
- It denies the aggrieved party their legal right to effectively challenge an order since the adjudication of issues has proceeded based on unshared material provided in a sealed cover. It prevents parties from having a full overview of the charges against them
- It perpetuates a culture of opaqueness and secrecy by bestowing absolute power in the hands of the adjudicating authority.
- It also tilts the balance of power in a litigation in favour of a dominant party which has control over information.
- It also takes away the opportunity to analyse judicial decisions, and to appreciate the rationale behind them.
- The Supreme Court clarified that all information must be not disclosed in the public, example “sensitive information affecting the privacy of individuals such as the identity of a sexual harassment victim”.
- The Supreme Court itself has encouraged the practice of seeking public-interest related information in sealed envelopes such as in the Rafale aircraft case, the court accepted the government’s argument that the matter pertained to the Official Secrets Act.
Source: Indian Express