Can take up any matter to do complete justice: SC on Sabarimala reference

Several petitioners had argued that pure questions of law cannot be referred to a larger bench, and it was not possible for the apex court to decide the reference without any facts of a particular case before it.
Sabarimala temple

New Delhi, May 11 : A nine -judge Bench of the Supreme Court on Monday said superior courts can take up any cause or matter pending before it to do complete justice. This declaration came on a judgement, passed by the apex court, when it decided to examine larger issues of religious freedom across multiple faiths connected with the Sabarimala temple entry case.

The judgment was passed on February 10, but published on Monday. Due to the nationwide lockdown to contain the outbreak of coronavirus, the nine-judge bench could not take up the matter in March.

“The reference can be supported by adverting to Article 142 of the Constitution which enables this court to make any order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it. The expression ’cause’ or ‘matter’ would include any proceeding pending in court and it would cover almost every kind of proceeding pending in this Court including civil or criminal proceedings”, said the top court’s verdict on Monday.

In November 2019, a five-judge bench headed by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi framed “larger issues” concerning essential religious practices of various religions while passing an order on the review of the 2018 Sabarimala judgement, which allowed women of all age groups to enter and worship at the temple.

The bench led by Justice Gogoi clubbed other pending cases on subjects as varied as female genital mutilation among Dawoodi Bohras, entry of Parsi women who married inter-faith into the fire temple and entry of Muslim women into mosques and referred all these matters to a larger bench.

Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, who succeeded Justice Gogoi, set up a nine-judge Bench to conduct the hearing on the reference. The bench, along with Chief Justice, comprises Justices R. Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L. Nageswara Rao, M.M. Shantanagoudar, S.A. Nazeer, R. Subhash Reddy, B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant.

The court said: “It is clear that there is no fetter in the exercise of the jurisdiction of this Court in review petitions of judgments or orders arising out of proceedings other than civil and criminal proceedings.”

Several petitioners had argued that pure questions of law cannot be referred to a larger bench, and it was not possible for the apex court to decide the reference without any facts of a particular case before it. The court said it disagreed.

“We do not agree. It is not necessary to refer to facts to decide pure questions of law, especially those pertaining to the interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution. In fact, reference of pure questions of law has been answered by this court earlier. One such instance was when this Court was convinced that a larger bench has to discern the true scope and interpretation of Article 30 (1) of the Constitution,” said the bench.

The top court noted that reference of questions of law can be made in any pending proceeding before it, including the instant review proceedings, to meet the ends of justice.

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