New Delhi: The Supreme Court said the submission of material in a sealed cover by investigating agency may potentially prejudice the accused's pre-trial, while granting bail to senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram in a money laundering case lodged by Enforcement Directorate in the INX Media scam.
On the last day of hearing, the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing ED, had submitted three sealed cover envelopes containing material connected with the case.
A bench headed by Justice R. Banumathi and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy observed that the Delhi High Court, which denied bail to Chidambaram last month, ought not to have recorded a finding based on the materials produced in a sealed cover.
"This court consciously refrained from opening the sealed cover and perusing the documents lest some observations are made thereon after perusal of the which would prejudice the accused pre-trial", said the court.
Citing this prejudice to the accused, the top court observed that this would be against the concept of fair trial "if in every case the prosecution presents documents in a 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 top court observed that in the present circumstances, it is not inclined to open the sealed cover. However, the court noted Delhi High Court had perused the documents in sealed cover and arrived at certain conclusion and since that order is under challenge, "it becomes imperative for us to also open the sealed cover and peruse the contents so as to satisfy ourselves to that extent."
Although, the court perused the documents in sealed cover and found that the statements of persons concerned have been recorded and the details collected have been 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 the appellant, of opening shell companies and also purchasing benami properties in the name of relatives at various places in different countries", said the court in the judgement.
The apex court noted that these are allegations which would have to be established in the trial wherein the accused/co-accused would have the opportunity of putting forth their case, if any, and then a conclusion would be reached. "Hence in our opinion, the findings recorded by the High Court based on the material in sealed cover is not justified", said the top court.
Granting bail to Chidambaram, the top court said that even if the allegation is one of grave economic offence, it is not a rule that bail should be denied in every case since there is no such bar created in the relevant enactment passed by the legislature nor does the bail jurisprudence provides so.