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Sabarimala case: 9-judge SC bench to frame issues as lawyers fail to reach consensus

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A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Monday said it will frame issues on discrimination against women at various religious places in view of the Sabarimala temple case and commence hearing of arguments next week.

The bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde noted that the parties will be informed about the time frame and also the issues decided in the matter on February 6.

Justice Bobde said all the counsels now are in agreement that this court can frame the issues, including the preliminary issue of the possibility of reference in the review jurisdiction.

“We are only going to decide the interpretation of those articles which have been invoked in the Sabarimala (case),” the CJI said.

The main contention before the court was that whether the 9-judge bench constituted for reference on review jurisdiction can be considered as an issue.

Besides Justice Bobde, the bench also comprised Justices R. Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L. Nageswara Rao, M.M. Shantanagoudar, S.A. Nazeer, R Subhash Reddy, B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant.

Senior advocates Fali S Nariman and Indira Jaising pleaded to the court to treat the reference on review jurisdiction as a preliminary issue.

Mehta read out the provisions under the Supreme Court rules to say that a matter may be referred to a larger bench when the court feels that some questions need to be decided by a bench of larger strength.

A three-judge bench of the apex court had on Thursday expressed disappointment over the lack of consensus on the framing of legal questions on the issue of discrimination faced by women over entry to religious places, including Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple.

The bench had said it was disappointed that the counsels could not arrive at a consensus on the list of questions to be answered by the bench. It had also said that it would pass orders on case management, fixing timelines and other modalities for the hearing, which the court has already directed to conclude within 10 days as arguments would be heard only on specific points of law.

As per the court’s directions at an earlier hearing, a meeting of counsels connected with the case could not finalise the common legal questions for further examination by the nine-judge constitution bench.

A five-judge bench, which was hearing the review matter of the September 28, 2018  judgement, had referred seven questions on November 14, 2019 for consideration by a larger bench while the minority judges had posed a few more questions relating to similar disputes in other faiths.

Last year, an apex court bench had said that the September 28, 2018 judgement in the Sabarimala matter was not the last word of the court, thus tentatively delaying the hearing in women’s rights activists’ plea for protection to women between the ages of ten and 50 years wishing to enter the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala.

Here is a detailed post on the Supreme Court’s observations in the September 2018 judgement.

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