Sabarimalai case

Supreme Court

NEW DELHI : The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its order on whether it can refer questions of law to a larger bench in a review petition.

The order is now set to be pronounced on Monday, following the Sabarimala judgement of 2019 that had asked a larger bench to examine various religious issues. These include the entry of women at places of worship, including mosques and the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, and the practice of female genital mutilation among Dawoodi Bohras.

The Sabarimala case will be the first after the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case to have day-to-day hearings, which begin on Wednesday as announced by the nine-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta along with senior advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Fali Nariman, K. Parasaran, and K.S. Vaidyanath, argued in favour of referring the Sabrimala review and related petitions to a larger bench, while senior advocates Shyam Divan, Indira Jaisingh, Rajeev Dhawan, and Jaideep Gupta differed.

“If there’s a question of law, the court has the liberty to constitute a larger bench to settle the issues. As custodian of fundamental rights, it is the duty of the court to lay down an authoritative pronouncement on these questions of law,” Mehta said. No technical fetters should restrict the courts to do complete justice, he added.

Nariman opposed this stand, arguing, “In every review, outside material which has nothing to do with the errors in the case cannot come in. There’s a whole line of cases for this…Ordinarily review petitions ought to proceed on the principle that they are for correction. Writ petitions don’t have any such restrictions.”

Jaisingh said the review bench should have decided the Sabarimala review and then probably referred the other related questions to a larger bench.

However, Parasaran supported the decision of the apex court, saying, “This is the highest court of the land with unlimited jurisdiction.” He also argued that there has to be a constitutionally expressed bar on the jurisdiction of the top court and in absence of this bar no one can argue against it.

In September 2018, a five-judge bench of the apex court allowed women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala, lifting a bar on girls and women of menstrual age.

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