The Supreme Court rejects Sealed Cover suggestions

The Supreme Court has stated that it will not accept the Centre’s suggestions on who should be members of a committee formed by the court to assess the market regulatory framework and recommend measures, if any, to strengthen it in the aftermath of the Adani-Hindenburg scandal.

Why in news?

  • The article discusses a public interest petition filed in the Supreme Court, which requests the formation of an expert panel to strengthen regulatory mechanisms related to the Adani Group.
  • According to the petitioners, the Adani Group has been able to avoid regulatory hurdles due to its influence over government officials and agencies.

What is the definition of Sealed Cover Jurisprudence?

  • It is a practise used by the Supreme Court and sometimes lower courts of requesting or accepting information from government agencies in sealed envelopes that only judges can open.
  • The doctrine of sealed cover is not defined by a specific law.
  • Rule 7 of Order XIII of the Supreme Court Rules and Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 give the Supreme Court the authority to use it.

Need for sealed cover jurisprudence

Sealed cover jurisprudence is used for a variety of reasons, including:

  • National security: In cases involving sensitive information related to defence or intelligence agencies, for example, the disclosure of such information in open court proceedings could jeopardise national security.
  • Individual privacy: It is also used to protect the privacy of individuals when sensitive personal information is involved. In such cases, the court may permit the submission of such information in a sealed cover to protect the individual’s privacy.
  • Commercial or trade secrets should be protected: In cases involving disputes between companies, the disclosure of confidential information about their business operations could jeopardise their commercial interests.

Nature of the power: Upholding Secrecy

  • If the Chief Justice or a court orders that certain information be kept under seal or deemed confidential, no party will be allowed access to the contents of such information.
  • There is an exception if the Chief Justice orders that the opposing party have access to it.
  • It also states that information can be kept confidential if its publication is not deemed to be in the public’s interest.
  • Official unpublished documents relating to state affairs are protected under the Evidence Act, and a public officer cannot be compelled to disclose such documents.

Grounds of such secrecy

  • Other times when information may be sought in confidence or secrecy is when it is published:
  • Impedes ongoing investigations into national security cases
  • Particulars from the police case diary or
  • Individual’s privacy is violated
  • Famous sealed jurisprudence cases
  • In recent years, courts have frequently used sealed cover jurisprudence.

(1) Rafale Deal

  • In the case of the contentious Rafale fighter jet deal, a Bench led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi ordered the Centre to submit details about the deal’s decision making and pricing in a sealed cover in 2018.
  • This was done because the Centre claimed that such details were subject to the Official Secrets Act and the deal’s secrecy clauses.

(2) Bhima Koregaon Case

  • In the case of Bhima Koregaon, activists were arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
  • The Supreme Court relied on information submitted in a sealed cover by the Maharashtra police.

Concerns about such jurisprudence

  • Open justice is undermined: This practise appears to be contrary to the Indian justice system’s principles of transparency and accountability.
  • It undermines public trust: It contradicts the concept of an open court, where decisions can be scrutinised by the public.
  • Increases arbitrariness: It is also said to increase the scope for arbitrariness in court decisions because judges are supposed to lay out their reasoning.
  • Unjust trials: Furthermore, it is argued that denying accused parties access to such documents obstructs their path to a fair trial and adjudication.

Way ahead

  • 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.
  • Create an expert panel, as proposed by the petitioners: To review the regulatory framework and make recommendations for strengthening it. Experts from a variety of fields, including environmental science, law, and economics, should serve on the panel.
  • Ensure that the regulatory process is transparent and accountable: Encourage a culture of environmental awareness and responsibility among businesses by promoting environmentally friendly and sustainable practises. This could include offering incentives and assistance to businesses that adopt such practises.
  • Examine the following cases involving the use of sealed covers: Make sure to use it sparingly and only when necessary to protect sensitive or confidential information.
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