Published on: 12 September 2023 at 14:13 IST
Court: Supreme Court of India
Citation: Amit Kumar Sharma V. Union of India (2022)
Honourable Supreme Court of India has held that the elementary principle of law is that all material which is relied upon by either party in the course of a judicial proceeding must be disclosed. Even if the adjudicating authority does not rely on the material while arriving at a finding, information that is relevant to the dispute, which would with ‘reasonable probability’ influence the decision of the authority must be disclosed.
It is held that sealed cover envelops provides for one-sided submission of material which forms the subject matter of adjudication to the exclusion of the other party causes a serious violation of natural justice.
29. The non-disclosure of relevant material to the affected party and its disclosure in a sealed-cover to the adjudicating authority (in this case the AFT) sets a dangerous precedent. The disclosure of relevant material to the adjudicating authority in a sealed cover makes the process of adjudication vague and opaque. The disclosure in a sealed cover perpetuates two problems. Firstly, it denies the aggrieved party their legal right to effectively challenge an order since the adjudication of issues has proceeded on the basis of unshared material provided in a sealed cover.
The adjudicating authority while relying on material furnished in the sealed cover arrives at a finding which is then effectively placed beyond the reach of challenge. Secondly, it perpetuates a culture of opaqueness and secrecy. It bestows absolute power in the hands of the adjudicating authority. It also tilts the balance of power in a litigation in favour of a dominant party which has control over information. Most often than not this is the state.
A judicial order accompanied by reasons is the hallmark of the justice system. It espouses the rule of law. However, the sealed cover practice places the process by which the decision is arrived beyond scrutiny. 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.
However, this is not to say that all information must be disclosed in the public. Illustratively, sensitive information affecting the privacy of individuals such as the identity of a sexual harassment victim cannot be disclosed. The measure of nondisclosure of sensitive information in exceptional circumstances must be proportionate to the purpose that the non-disclosure seeks to serve. The exceptions should not, however, become the norm.
Drafted By Abhijit Mishra