Practice of sealed cover contrary to process of fair justice: CJI Chandrachud

The Supreme Court raised similar concerns while hearing petitions seeking a probe into the allegations levelled against the Adani Group in a report by US-based Hindenburg Research.

Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachudm supreme court
Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud (IE)

The practice of sealed covers goes against the tenets of fair justice, Chief Justice of India DY CHandrachud said on Monday as he refused to accept a note provided in a sealed cover by the Attorney General of India R Venkataramani. A CJI-led bench, also comprising Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala, was hearing a plea by the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM) on the issue of One Rank One Pension (OROP) arrears.

“We need to put an end to this sealed cover procedure which is being followed in the Supreme Court because then the High Courts will also start following. And this is fundamentally contrary to the basic process of fair justice,” the CJI said, according to The Indian Express.

The observations came when the Attorney General produced a note with details sought by the top court in the last hearing in a sealed cover, claiming that it was confidential. The court, however, refused to accept it and asked the Centre why it could not be shared with the petitioners.

The court, during the last hearing, had sought a note detailing what had been done, what remains to be done, the time schedule and the shortest possible time in which the Centre can clear the OROP dues.

“I am personally averse to sealed covers. What happens is, we see something he does not see. And we decide the case without showing it to him. This is fundamentally contrary to the judicial process. There cannot be secrecy in the court. The court has to be transparent,” CJI Chandrachud observed.

This isn’t the first time that the Chief Justice of India has expressed his reservations about the practice of sealed covers. While hearing a batch of petitions seeking a probe into the allegations levelled by Hindenburg Research against the Adani Group last month, a three-judge bench headed by the CJI told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the court wanted to maintain full transparency. The court’s observation came after the SG sought to submit the Centre’s names for a committee of experts in a sealed cover.

“We would rather not accept the sealed cover suggestions from you for this reason; in constituting a committee which we want to do, we want to maintain full transparency. The moment we accept a set of suggestions from you in a sealed cover, it means the other side is not seeing them. Even if we don’t accept your suggestions, they will not know which of your suggestions we have accepted and which we have not,” IE quoted CJI Chandrachud as saying.

Notably, the five-member expert committee set up by the Supreme Court following the Hindenburg report on Adani has been asked by the Supreme Court to submit its report before it in a sealed cover in two months.

During the hearing on Monday, the CJI wondered about the need for secrecy in a matter concerning the payment of pensions. Secrecy, the CJI observed, is understandable if it concerns a case diary to which an accused is not entitled, or something which affects the source of information, or somebody’s life, but not pensions.

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First published on: 21-03-2023 at 11:29 IST