The apex court, however, refused to stay operation of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday referred to a larger bench petitions challenging the constitutionality of the BJP government's National Judicial Appointments Commission law.
The larger bench, to be set up by the Chief Justice of India, will now decide on merits the validity of the legislature's decision to do away with the two-decade-old collegium system of judicial appointments and replace it with the NJAC in its present form as passed by the Parliament.
By referring the petitions to the larger bench, the court has prima facie dismissed the government's argument that it is too premature for the court to decide on the validity of the NJAC law before it has been notified.
The judgment was delivered by Justice Anil Dave, who headed a special bench comprising Justices Madan B. Lokur and J. Chelameswar.
"We are referring the petitions to a larger bench. We are not saying anything in the interim," Justice Dave said before signing the judgment in open court.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi was present in court for the Centre.
The Supreme Court had in March reserved its verdict on maintainability of petitions challenging the validity of a constitutional amendment and the NJAC Act, meant to replace the two-decade old collegium system of judges appointing judges.
The three-judge bench reserved the judgement after Attorney-General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre, wrapped up his rejoinder arguments saying that the pleas be dismissed as they were “premature” and “academic” in nature.
Referring to various case laws, the AG had said the power of Parliament to make law is “plenary” and hence, the methodology adopted by the legislature in clearing the law on the floor of the House cannot be “tested” by the court.
He was responding to submissions made by senior advocate F.S. Nariman, for SCAORA, that as per constitutional scheme, the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act should not have been passed ahead of enabling constitutional amendment.
Mr. Nariman termed the law a "still born child."
“Where was the authority to pass the NJAC Act,” Mr. Nariman had asked and added that the Act should have been passed after the Constitutional Amendment.
“Only end product can be examined by the courts and it is irrelevant that this Act was passed earlier and that Act was passed later,” Mr. Rohatgi said, adding, “only an Act, after notification, can be tested in the court of law and not the procedures adopted by the Parliament.”
The apex court was hearing the matters to decide whether the petitions challenging the validity of the Constitutional Amendment Act and the NJAC Act were maintainable or not. Mr. Nariman and senior advocate Anil Divan, for Bar Association of India, opposed the two Acts and sought that direction be passed to maintain status quo, saying the entire process would otherwise become irreversible.