A nine-judge Supreme Court bench on Monday ruled that questions of law can be referred to a larger bench even in a review petition, Live Law reported.

On February 6, the nine-judge bench had reserved its order on the preliminary question whether a reference is possible in a review petition. It said that it would pronounce its ruling on Monday, and examine the case on a daily basis from Wednesday.

“If there’s a question of law, the court has the liberty to constitute a larger bench to settle the issues,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the government, told the court on Monday. “As custodian of fundamental rights, it is the duty of the court to lay down an authoritative pronouncement on these questions of law.”

Senior advocate Fali S Nariman submitted that the reference was not maintainable. He argued that the scope of review was very narrow to examine the correctness of the original judgement. Nariman said that the court’s November 2019 judgement on the Sabarimala case was an “adjournment order” and not a reference.

Although the matter arose out of the Sabarimala case, the nine-judge Constitution bench was earlier tasked with considering seven bigger legal questions, which could be used to examine other related petitions too, such as the entry of Muslim and Parsi women into places of worship, and female genital cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra community.

Sabarimala case

On September 28, 2018, a five-judge Constitution bench, which included former Chief Justice Dipak Misra, had allowed women of all ages to enter the Ayyappa temple, leading to massive protests. Only a handful of women managed to enter the shrine after the judgement.

On November 14, 2019, a five-judge Constitution bench ruled, in a 3:2 verdict, that a larger bench should consider the matter again.