In the bail order granted to former Finance Minister P Chidambaram in the INX Media case, the Supreme Court Wednesday decried the practice of submitting documents in sealed covers to the court, referring to it as against “the concept of free trial”.
VIDEO | What is INX Media case?
The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice R Banumathi in its verdict noted that there was no justification for the Delhi High Court to deny Chidamabaram bail based on the documents submitted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a sealed cover.
“Hence in our opinion, the finding recorded by the Judge of the High Court based on the material in sealed cover is not justified,” it said. The bench comprising Justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy dismissing the High Court order, granted bail to Chidambaram, who was in custody for 105 days.
“…though it is held that it would be open for the Court to peruse the documents, it would be against the concept of fair trial if in every case the prosecution presents documents in sealed cover and the findings on the same are recorded as if the offence is committed and the same is treated as having a bearing for denial or grant of bail,” the bench was quoted as saying by PTI.
The bench added that while it was not very inclined to open the sealed documents submitted by the probe agency which was opposing bail in the case, the High Court’s order had heavily relied on them and, therefore, the top court had to peruse it.
“We were not very much inclined to open the sealed cover although the materials in sealed cover was received from the respondent. However, since the Single Judge of the High Court had perused the documents in sealed cover and arrived at certain conclusion and since that order is under challenge, it had become imperative for us to also open the sealed cover and peruse the contents so as to satisfy ourselves to that extent,” the court observed.
During the hearing of the bail plea, Chidambaram’s counsel had opposed placing on record the probe agency’s sealed cover documents.
Referring to its November 15 verdict, the top court said, in the present case, the High Court ought not have recorded a finding based on the materials produced before them.
“While the judge was empowered to look at the materials produced in a sealed cover to satisfy his judicial conscience, the Judge ought not to have recorded finding based on the materials produced in a sealed cover,” the SC bench said.
When asked if the court could look into sealed cover documents, the Supreme Court bench referred to its September 5 verdict, when it had rejected Chidambaram’s anticipatory bail plea in the INX case.
“…this Court had held that it would be open for the Court to receive the materials/documents collected during the investigation and peruse the same to satisfy its conscience that the investigation is proceeding in the right lines and for the purpose of consideration of grant of bail/anticipatory bail etc,” the bench stated and disapproved how the High Court in its order had “verbatim quoted” a note produced by the ED.
The top court also held that the granting of bail to the former finance minister comes after the statements of the persons concerned in the case had been recorded and all details were collated.
“The recording of statements and the collation of material is in the nature of allegation against one of the co-accused Karti Chidambaram— son of appellant (P Chidambaram)—of opening shell companies and also purchasing benami properties in the name of relatives at various places in different countries,” the court said, while it refrained disclosing more about the documents submitted in sealed cover.
Chidambaram who has been in custody since August 21 in the INX Media corruption case, was arrested initially by the Central Bureau of Investigation and later, by the ED, on October 16 in a separate money laundering case.
-with PTI inputs