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Public interest immunity claims

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Indian Judiciary

 

Source: IE

 Context: Recently, SC set aside an order from the central government imposing a broadcast ban on the Malayalam news channel MediaOne. It has also formulated a procedure for “public interest immunity claims”, a less restrictive alternative to ‘Sealed cover jurisprudence’ for deciding claims involving state secrets.

 

What is “Sealed cover jurisprudence”?

It refers to a legal practice where certain sensitive documents or information are presented to a court in a sealed envelope or cover (to protect the confidentiality of the information), which only the judge or authorized persons can open and view. The judge will then decide whether the information can be used as evidence, remain confidential or be disclosed.

  • 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.

 

What are “public interest immunity claims”?

It refers to situations where the disclosure of certain information in a legal case might harm national security or other important public interests. In such cases, the government or other parties can seek to withhold or redact such information.

 

Test for “public interest immunity claims” (as given by SC):

A claim involving national security considerations must be based on the test of:
(i)               whether there is material to conclude that the non-disclosure of information is in the interest of national security

(ii)              whether a reasonably prudent person would draw the same inference from the material on record

(iii)            Even if the non-disclosure is in the interests of national security, the means adopted by the government should satisfy the proportionality of action.

 

Benefits of “public interest immunity claim” over the “sealed cover jurisprudence” for justice:

Dimension Public Interest Immunity Claim Sealed Cover Jurisprudence
Standard of review Structured proportionality None (so more restrictive)
Impact on Principles of natural justice Partial It infringes on the principles of natural justice as well as the principles of open justice- thus has a wide impact.
Disclosure of information to the parties Yes No, the information  remains undisclosed
Safeguard of amicus curiae Yes- amicus curiae helps in balancing the concerns of confidentiality with the need to preserve public confidence in the objectivity of the justice delivery process. Optional

 

 

What is “Structured Proportionality”?

In simple terms, it is a standard used by courts to evaluate a case and ensure that decisions about confidentiality are made fairly and with due consideration for all relevant factors.

 

The process of appointing an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”):

 The court-appointed amicus, or impartial advisor, is allowed access to materials that the state is trying to keep confidential. The amicus can talk to the person requesting the information and their lawyer before the court hearing to understand their case and help them argue why the information should be disclosed. However, once the hearing begins and the lawyer has seen the information, amicus cannot talk to them anymore. The amicus must do its best to represent the interests of the person requesting the information and cannot disclose the information to anyone else.

 

Conclusion: 

The debate on Public Interest Immunity Claims and sealed covers should focus on how to strike a balance between the public’s right to know and the necessity to preserve national security.

For more about “The SC on sealed cover jurisprudence”: Click here

Article 145 of the Constitution says that all judgments (decisions) made by the Supreme Court must be given in an open court where anyone can watch or hear. This means that the decisions cannot be made secretly.

According to Article 145(4), the court cannot give a judgment or report the opinions of judges in secret, it must be done openly in front of people.

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.

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Sealed cover jurisprudence