Context: The Supreme Court’s judgment in the Media One case is a landmark decision on freedom of expression and a warning against the misuse of national security rhetoric to cover up state arbitrariness.
About Media one case
(Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd Media One Headquarters v. Union of India and Others)
It was a judgement passed by Supreme Court on freedom of expression and a blow against sealed cover malpractice. It distinguishes the government from the nation and allows citizens to question the state, admonishing the misuse of national security rhetoric to cover up state arbitrariness.
Sealed cover jurisprudence
In the context of court proceedings, sealed covers refer to envelopes containing confidential or sensitive information that are submitted by government agencies or other individuals upon request by the Supreme Court or lower courts.
Only judges are allowed to access the contents of these sealed covers, and they are not accessible to other parties involved in the case. This practice of requesting evidence in sealed covers and making decisions based on such evidence is commonly referred to as sealed cover jurisprudence. This practice has been in vogue in cases like Rafale fighter jet deal, NRC issue, 2014 BCCI reforms case etc.
Cases in which this jurisprudence is practiced
- Issues of national security
- Violation of public order
- Cases of Money Laundering
- Cases of Sedition
- Ban on freedom of speech by media houses
- Trade involving two nations
- Issues of privacy – cases involving sexual assaults or child abuse
- Documents part of ongoing investigation
Criticism of sealed cover jurisprudence
- It violates the principles of transparency and accountability for Indian Judiciary.
- It stands in contrast to the idea of an open court where decisions can be subjected to public scrutiny.
- It impacts the rights of the accused to know the grounds on which its fundamental right – freedom of speech and expression is curtailed.
- Against Fair Trial and Adjudication – not providing access to such documents to the accused parties obstructs their passage to a fair trial and adjudication.
- It impacts judicial review – as state need not show to the accused why security of the state is threatened.
- Violates Principles of Natural Justice – as it creates bias against the accused and the accused is kept in dark on the charges framed against him.
- Results in arbitrariness in judicial decisions – because the judge is taking decisions based only on the information provided by the government agencies.
- Judgments in such instances cannot be said to be Reasoned Order.
- Questions State Practice as in-camera hearing is a possible alternative.