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Sealed cover jurisprudence:

GS Paper 2:

Topics Covered: Separation of powers.

 

Context:

The Supreme Court, in the Media One ban case, has reiterated its intention to examine the legality of governments filing incriminating material in sealed covers without sharing the information with the accused/other party.

  • The issue of “sealed cover jurisprudence” came up in the previous hearing on March 15, when the Centre wanted to pass on to the court its internal files regarding the ban in a sealed cover.

 

What is Sealed Cover Jurisprudence?

It is a practice used by the Supreme Court and sometimes lower courts, of asking for or accepting information from government agencies in sealed envelopes that can only be accessed by judges.

  • While a specific law does not define the doctrine of sealed cover, the Supreme Court derives its power to use it from Rule 7 of order XIII of the Supreme Court Rules and Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.

 

Rule 7 of order XIII of the Supreme Court Rules:

It is stated under the said rule that 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.

 

Exceptions:

If the Chief Justice himself orders that the opposite party be allowed to access it.

It also mentions that information can be kept confidential if its publication is not considered to be in the interest of the public.

 

Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872:

  • Under this act, official unpublished documents relating to state affairs are protected and a public officer cannot be compelled to disclose such documents.
  • Other instances where information may be sought in secrecy or confidence are when its publication impedes an ongoing investigation, such as details which are part of a police case diary.

 

Reasons for Sealed Covers:

  • When the matter pertained to the Official Secrets Act.
  • To maintain public confidence in the Government agency.
  • Delicate international negotiations or those that relate to sensitive aspects of security.
  • Details about survivors of sexual assaults or child abuse which may affect their future life and bring unncessary shame affecting the Right to Live with Dignity.
  • Disclosure sometimes affects the ongoing investigation.

 

Issues with the Sealed Cover Jurisprudence:

  • Against the Principles of Transparency and Accountability.
  • Reduces the Scope of Reasoning.
  • Obstruction to Fair Trial and Adjudication.
  • Arbitrary in Nature.

Sources: the Hindu.