Sabarimala| Questions of law can be referred to larger bench while hearing a review petition; Issues framed

Supreme Court: The 9-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L Nageswara Rao, M M Shantanagoudar, S A Nazeer, R Subhash Reddy, B R Gavai and Surya Kant, JJ, hearing the Sabarimala reference has held that the Supreme Court can refer questions of law to a larger bench while exercising its review jurisdiction. The bench had, on February 6, 2020, reserved it’s order on the said legal issue while hearing the Sabarimala reference after renowned jurist and senior advocate Fali Nariman objected to the manner in which the Supreme Court turned a review of the Sabarimala case into an opportunity to set up a nine-judge Bench and examine whether certain essential religious practices of various faiths, including Islam and Zoroastrianism, should be constitutionally protected.

The Court also framed 7 seven questions that are to be decided by the 9-judge bench in the Sabarimala reference and has proposed a day-to-day hearing in the matter from February 17, 2020. The issues to be heard relate to:

  • What is the scope and ambit of right to freedom of religion under Article 25 of the Constitution of India?
  •  What is the inter-play between the rights of persons under Article 25 of the Constitution of India and rights of religious denomination under Article 26 of the Constitution of India?
  • Whether the rights of a religious denomination under Article 26 of the Constitution of India are subject to other provisions of Part III of the Constitution of India apart from public order, morality and health?
  • What is the scope and extent of the word ‘morality’ under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India and whether it is meant to include Constitutional morality?
  • What is the scope and extent of judicial review with regard to a religious practice as referred to in Article 25 of the Constitution of India?
  • What is the meaning of expression “Sections of Hindus” occurring in Article 25 (2) (b) of the Constitution of India?
  • Whether a person not belonging to a religious denomination or religious group can question a practice of that religious denomination or religious group by filing a PIL?

Earlier, CJI Bobde had said that the court will examine the matter and hear the scope of judicial review on the point of religious faith and women’s rights. He had fixed a 10-day period for concluding the hearing on the petition seeking women’s entry into Sabarimala temple, mosques, and Parsi Agiyari.
The Court had on January 13 said that it will only hear the questions referred to in the review order passed by it in November last year in the Sabarimala temple case, which allowed women and girls of all age groups to visit the shrine in Kerala. The bench had asked counsels to consult each other and decide which issue is to be argued by whom as done during Ayodhya hearing. The Counsels were, however, unabale to reach a consensus on the issues to be argued. 

The Court had in November last year, suggested that the Sabarimala issue along with other related issues, be heard by a larger bench of at least 7-judges.

The court is hearing a clutch of petitions seeking reconsideration of its September 2018 judgment that lifted the bar on menstruating women from worshipping in the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.

The Court in a landmark 4:1 ruling had set aside decades-old restrictions on the entry of women of menstruating age inside the temple.
The verdict had sparked a series of protests across the state, which eventually led to the filing of several petitions seeking review of the top court’s order challenging the authority of the court to intervene in a belief of the people.

[Kantaru Rajeevaru v. Indian Young Lawyers Assn, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 158 , decided on 10.02.2020]

Also read:Sabarimala Review Petitions Not Referred To A Larger Bench, But Kept Pending. Here’s What Supreme Court Has Actually Held

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