Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud has made headlines by refusing to accept the sealed cover note submitted by the Central Government in the matter relating to disbursal of pension arrears to retired defence personnel under the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme.
Stating that he was personally averse to sealed covers, he remarked that the practice of sealed covers was against the principles of fair justice.
In recent years, the Apex Court has been openly critical of the use of sealed covers, with judges often making remarks to this effect.
A “sealed cover” refers to a confidential document or information that is submitted to the court in a sealed envelope or cover. This document is not made available to the parties involved in the case or the general public.
Not only did the CJI refuse to accept the sealed cover note, but also directed the Attorney General of India (AG) to share the note with the advocate of the ex-servicemen.
The SC also rejected the cause stated by AG that the letter contains confidential and sensitive information. He then had to read out the text from the letter in the court.
This is how the system should be. The judicial procedure where the court gives its judgement based on the document that the other party does not have access to, is against the basic principles of fair justice.
The CJI through his actions has brought the importance of transparency in judicial procedure to the fore and has reiterated that there is no need for secrecy, except in selected matters.
This isn’t the first time, the CJI rejected information submitted by government in a sealed cover.
Earlier in the Adani-Hindenburg matter, the Supreme Court refused to accept the names proposed by the Central Government in a sealed cover for inclusion in the proposed expert committee to review the regulatory mechanism.
The tradition of submitting information sealed covers could not only hamper the outcome of a case, it could also encourage a culture of secrecy, leading to opaqueness in the overall justice system.
Only in exceptional cases, the sensitive information should not be disclosed. But exception cannot be a norm. Thankfully, the Supreme Court has taken many steps towards transparency. The decision to broadcast the Supreme Court's proceedings live became a reality last October and nearly eight lakh people watched it. This turned out to be a crucial decision.
The general public is getting to know the actual proceedings of the court, the exact arguments made by lawyers and the way judges ask the questions.
They also get to see that lawyers do not give lengthy speeches but present their sides, based on evidence and past court judgments. The general public will also realise the difference between actual court proceedings and the ones depicted in movies.
Most importantly, the move should be seen as the step initiated by the country's highest judicial body to bring in absolute transparency. Along with the higher courts, there is live broadcast of parliamentary and Assembly proceedings, through which people come to know what the legislature is doing.
Although there is no system regarding live broadcast of administrative decision making process, most official documents had become available for the general public thanks to RTI. Yes, there are sometimes attempts being made to defy RTI by a few individuals or officials, but that is not the fault of the system.
It is heartening to see that the judiciary is opening up. Till now, people were afraid to write or talk about the judiciary as no adequate awareness regarding contempt of court. However, since the Supreme Court itself has initiated to bring about transparency at all levels, the move should be welcomed by all.