No to sealed cover : The Tribune India

No to sealed cover

Apex court advocates transparency and fairness

No to sealed cover

The Supreme Court’s refusal to accept the Centre’s sealed note about its views on One Rank, One Pension arrears follows a similar rejection of a sealed envelope that contained the government’s report on suggestions about an expert panel regarding the Hindenburg row. Former Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ramana was critical of the sealed-cover practice, and now the disapproval by CJI Chandrachud marks a welcome step forward. Though the apex court itself gave legitimacy to the practice over the years, there appears to be a shift in the stance, for it undermines the cause of transparency and fairness in the judicial process. There’s a need to put an end to this as it makes the process of adjudication opaque and vague, setting a dangerous precedent, a Bench stated recently.

Sealed covers have been accepted by courts in cases involving departmental inquiries, sexual assault, sharing of state secrets, personal liberty and terrorism. Based on the principle of confidentiality, the submission of information without making it available to the parties involved in the case or the public, however, has been a matter of debate. A sealed cover, it has been argued, is relevant only when state privilege is claimed, but the bar to claim it has to be set high. Selective censoring of information can amount to violating the right to a fair trial. The practice of sealed covers has drawn criticism for often being used when the government feels uncomfortable about revealing its views or information. An oral observation in the apex court addressed the concerns by noting that the measure of non-disclosure of sensitive information in exceptional circumstances must be proportionate to the purpose the non-disclosure seeks to serve.

For cases of a sensitive nature, in-camera proceedings are always an option. The other side not knowing what has been shown to the court would not conform to the principle of fairplay and justice.

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