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Practice of Sealed Cover Jurisprudence in Courts

Nov 14, 2022

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Today’s edition of our Current Affairs will comprise a discussion on Practice of Sealed Cover Jurisprudence in Courts. Read further to upgrade your UPSC CSE knowledge and also understand the topic’s relevance to the UPSC syllabus.

For Prelims: Polity and Governance

Sealed cover, the Supreme Court, Rule 7 of Order XIII, Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.

For Mains: GS Paper II- Judiciary

About the “sealed cover” jurisprudence, Instance when court can ask for information in a sealed cover, Issues related to the “sealed cover” jurisprudence, Disclosure of all Information to everyone.

Context

The Supreme Court that has given legitimacy to the practice of “sealed cover” jurisprudence has recently criticized the practice, for setting a “dangerous precedent”, which makes “the process of adjudication vague and opaque”. 

Probable Question

The verdict on sealed or secret documents went against “the basic principles of natural justice”. Critically Analyze. (10 Marks, 150 words)

About the “Sealed Cover” Jurisprudence

  • It is a controversial practice followed by the Supreme Court and sometimes lower courts as well.
  • In this, the court seeks and accepts information from government agencies in sealed envelopes that can only be pursued by the judges.
  • Rule 7 of Order XIII of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013
    • 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, until directed by the Chief Justice himself. 
    • The information is considered confidential for publication if it is not considered to be in the interest of the public.
  • Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872:
    • The official unpublished documents relating to state affairs are protected and a public officer cannot be compelled to disclose such documents.
    • Information may be sought in secrecy or confidence when its publication impedes an ongoing investigation, such as details that are part of the police’s case diary; or breaches the privacy of an individual.

Instance When the Court can Ask for Information in a Sealed Cover

  • Firstly, when information is connected to an ongoing investigation, it could impede the investigation.
  • Secondly, when it involves personal or confidential information, it could violate an individual’s privacy or result in a breach of trust.

Issues Related to the “Sealed Cover” Jurisprudence

  • Full Overview: It prevents parties from having a full overview of the charges against them.
  • No Transparency: It is not compatible with the idea of an open court and a transparent system of justice. 
  • Scope of Arbitrariness: Courts are bound to set out reasons for their decisions, and legal experts argue that not disclosing them leaves scope for arbitrariness in judicial decisions. 
  • Reduce Opportunity: It also takes away the opportunity to analyze judicial decisions, and to appreciate the rationale behind them.
  • Adjudication vague and opaque Process: The Supreme Court in ‘Cdr Amit Kumar Sharma v Union of India’ said that the disclosure of relevant material to the adjudicating authority in a sealed cover makes the process of adjudication vague and opaque.
  • Unfairness: It bestows absolute power in the hands of the adjudicating authority. It also tilts the balance of power in litigation in favor of a dominant party that has control over information. 
  • Functioning of the justice: 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.
  • Fair Trial: It would be against the concept of a fair trial if in every case the prosecution presents documents in a sealed cover and the findings on the same are recorded as if the offense is committed.

Also Read: Supreme Court Judges Appointment

Disclosure of All Information to Everyone

  • The Supreme Court clarified that “this is not to say that all information must be disclosed to the public”. 
  • The SC underlines that “the measure of nondisclosure of sensitive information in exceptional circumstances must be proportionate to the purpose that the non-disclosure seeks to serve”, and that “the exceptions should not become the norm”.

Way Forward

  • There is a need to make proper distinction between the information that should be disclosed and the one that should be sealed, to give more clarity.
  • Transparency in the system of Justice is crucial, thus the court should examine it accordingly, keeping the interest of both the parties proportionally.
  • It should also be ensured that in the purview of the sealed cover jurisprudence, there should not be any loss of opportunity to analyze the judicial decision. 
  • Functioning of the justice should also not be affected due to the practice of sealed cover jurisprudence.

News Source: The Indian Express

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/everyday-explainers/sc-flags-sealed-cover-again-says-it-is-vague-and-opaque-what-is-this-practice-frequently-seen-in-courts-8264794/

Newspaper reading is undeniably the most crucial part of IAS preparation, and reading it in the right manner is another. Watch this video by Hemant Jha sir where he discusses the right way to effectively read newspapers and books for UPSC CSE preparation:

https://youtu.be/EQ5sOZyFfP0

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