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Sealed cover Jurisprudence
News: The Chief Justice of India firmly refused the ‘suggestions’ offered by the government in a sealed cover on the formation of a proposed committee to enquire into the Hindenburg report on the Adani Group.
The origins of sealed cover jurisprudence can be traced to service or administrative cases. Official service records and promotion assessments of individual personnel were received in a sealed cover in order to avoid harm to the reputation of officers.
The court continues to receive confidential documents in sexual assault cases to protect the identity of survivors.
However, recently there has been a rise in the incidence of the government providing documents in a sealed cover. For example, Rafale jets deal, Gujarat Police ‘fake encounter’, Bhima Koregoan Case.
What is Sealed Cover Jurisprudence?
Sealed Cover Jurisprudence (SCJ) is a legal concept that refers to the practice of presenting sensitive or confidential information to a court or tribunal in a sealed envelope or cover, to be opened and reviewed only by the judge or judges in charge of the case.
The Court can ask for information in a sealed cover in two circumstances – I) When information is connected to an ongoing investigation and when it involves personal or confidential information whose disclosure may result in violation of an individual’s privacy or breach of trust.
What are issues associated with it?
Sealed cover jurisprudence can limit transparency and accountability in the legal process, as the evidence or arguments presented in the sealed cover are not available to the public or other parties.
It creates an unequal playing field, as the parties who have access to the information in the sealed cover may have an advantage over those who do not.
The parties who are not privy to the information in the sealed cover may not have the opportunity to respond to or challenge the evidence or arguments presented in it, which can undermine their ability to present their case effectively.
Passing on materials in a sealed cover to the court compels judges to accept the state’s version, that too, in cases in which the government’s narrative is under challenge.
What are SC’s observations over Sealed Cover Jurisprudence?
P Gopalakrishnan vs State of Kerala (2019) - The SC held that disclosure of documents to the accused is constitutionally mandated, even if the investigation is ongoing and documents may lead to a breakthrough in the investigation.
INX Media Case (2019) - The Supreme Court had criticised the Delhi High Court for basing its decision to deny bail to a former Union Minister on documents submitted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a sealed cover. It held the action as against the concept of fair trial.
In the Pegasus case judgement, SC underscored that the government must prove the facts that the information sought would affect national security concerns. The state cannot get a free pass every time the issue of ‘national security’ is raised.