Substantial Question of Law

Clause (3) of Article 145 says the minimum number of Judges who are to sit for the purpose of deciding any case involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of this Constitution or for the purpose of hearing any reference under Article 143 shall be five.  The phrase ‘substantial question of law as to the interpretation of this Constitution’  has evinced a lively discussion on our blog a few days ago.  This morning, the question engaged the attention of the Constitution Bench in the case of Pramati Educational and Cultural Trust v. UOI.

The presiding Judge, Justice R.M.Lodha, expressed his view that any challenge to Constitutional provisions would involve a substantial question of law.  Justice A.K.Patnaik added that the Court has to form an opinion on whether substantial question has arisen in a given case.  Justice Lodha was of the view that two or three Judges cannot decide the validity of Constitutional amendments, and that there cannot be a more substantial question than the interpretation of a Constitutional provision.

The arguing senior counsel, T.R.Andhyarujina, who was defending Article 21A guaranteeing the Right to Education, submitted that all Constitutional questions do not involve substantial questions.  However, he added that the question of basic structure would involve a substantial question.

The discussion on what appears as an interesting question, however, was brief, as the Court moved on to the other aspects of the case before it.

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1 comment
  • I would agree with Justice Lodha. The bar of what is a substantial question should be kept relatively low, and definitely not as high as the Senior Counsel was arguing. A substantial question of law involving the interpretation of the Constitution is in itself a pretty high bar. Not only does it have to involve an interpretation of the Constitution, it also has to be a substantial question of law as to such interpretation. Intuitively, it seems to suggest cases where the interpretation argued for differs from precedent, or conventional application.