Justice Gautam S Patel of the Bombay High Court last week said that in his court, “there will never be a question of” anything being done “in sealed cover” and any document that the judge is privy to peruse, all parties to the case would be entitled to see. The court said that this was the only method to ensure “an open and transparent decision-making process”. The judge also said that he cannot curtail rights of free press at the instance of parties to the case.
Justice Patel on September 18 was hearing through videoconference a clutch of commercial arbitration pleas against one Anugrah Stock & Broking Pvt Ltd, through senior counsel Birendra Saraf along with advocates Aditya Mehta and Kamal Bulchandani alleging that the company had caused them extensive financial and monetary loss and accused it of illegal and unauthorised trades.
The judge perused an affidavit in reply to the pleas filed by Anugrah through advocate Rohaan Cama which included disclosure of assets of Anugrah such as flats and office-spaces in Mumbai and Ahmedabad, high-end cars and said that the respondent was required to explain the provenance of these funds, especially in light of its showing in the same affidavit that it has negligible liquidity today. “Curiously the financial securities said to be held by Anugrah are almost worthless,” HC observed.
Thereafter, the judge was informed by Cama that his clients have submitted additional material in a sealed cover. However, the court said that it had not been made available to it since hearings were conducted online.
In light of this, Justice Patel said, “In any case, I am making it abundantly clear that at least in my court there is no question — and there will never be a question — of anything being done ‘in sealed cover’.”
He added, “Anything that I can see, all parties before me are entitled to see. That is all there is to it. This is the only method that I know of to ensure an open and transparent decision-making process. Those details will, therefore, need to be set on affidavit. I am also making it clear that it is not possible for any party to unilaterally decide to put material into a sealed cover.”
The judge further clarified that since he was not permitting any sealed cover submissions, there was no question of any party ‘arrogating’ any such right or privilege in any circumstances.
Justice Patel directed Cama to submit a legible copy of an affidavit in reply and said that all further details in the ‘so called sealed cover’ are to be placed in affidavit and the copies be served to all the parties to the case.
When Cama expressed apprehension that “the material will find its way into the press”, Justice Patel responded, “I couldn’t care less. That is not my concern. The fourth estate will do its job and I will do mine. I decide matters before me on the basis of the papers filed in court, not newspapers delivered to my doorstep. The press exists for a reason. It has a purpose, one that it serves. I cannot and will not curtail the rights of the free press at the instance of this or that party. I refuse to proceed on the basis that the press is always irresponsible. There will be no gag orders here.”
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