“Disproportionately light punishment humiliates the victim”; Navjot Singh Sidhu to undergo one-year rigorous imprisonment in 1988 road rage case: SC

Supreme Court: Allowing the review petition in the 34-year-old road-rage case involving cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu that resulted into the death of one 65-yer-old Gurnam Singh, the bench of AM Khanwilkar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul, JJ has imposed a sentence of one-year rigorous imprisonment on Sidhu in addition to the fine of Rs.1,000/- imposed in the order dated 15.05.2018.

In 1988, Sidhu got into a fight with the deceased over his right to way at a traffic light in Patiala. Sidhu had pulled the deceased out of his vehicle and inflicted fist blows. The incident eventually culminated in the death of Gurnam Singh. The Court, however, held that Sidhu had voluntarily caused hurt to Gurnam Singh punishable under Section 323 IPC.

While dealing with the review petition, the Court noticed that some material aspects which were required to be taken note of appear to have been somehow missed out at the stage of sentencing, such as the physical fitness of Sidhu as he was an international cricketer, who was tall and well built and aware of the force of a blow that even his hand would carry. The blow was not inflicted on a person identically physically placed but a 65-year-old person, more than double his age.

The Court observed that Sidhu cannot say that he did not know the effect of the blow or plead ignorance on this aspect.

“It is not as if someone has to remind him of the extent of the injury which could be caused by a blow inflicted by him. In the given circumstances, tempers may have been lost but then the consequences of the loss of temper must be borne.”

The Court went on to state that to some extent it had been indulgent in ultimately holding Sidhu guilty of an offence of simple hurt under Section 323 of the IPC.

Observing that the hand can also be a weapon by itself where say a boxer, a wrestler or a cricketer or an extremely physically fit person inflicts the same, the Court said that,

“When a 25-year-old man, who was an international cricketer, assaults a man more than twice his age and inflicts, even with his bare hands, a severe blow on victim’s head, the unintended consequence of harm would still be properly attributable to him as it was reasonably foreseeable. That it would cause the death of a person is another matter since the conviction is only under Section 323 of the IPC. Even though any harm might not be directly intended, some aggravated culpability must be attached if the person suffers a grievous hurt or dies as a result thereof.”

On the aspect of sentencing, the Court said that a disproportionately light punishment humiliates and frustrates a victim of crime when the offender goes unpunished or is let off with a relatively minor punishment as the system pays no attention to the injured’s feelings.

Noticing that indifference to the rights of the victim of crime is fast eroding the faith of the society in general and the victim of crime in particular in the criminal justice system, the Court observed,

“The society cannot long endure under serious threats and if the courts do not protect the injured, the injured would then resort to private vengeance and, therefore, it is the duty of every court to award proper sentence having regard to the nature of the offence and the manner in which it was executed or committed.”

[Jaswinder Singh v. Navjot Singh Sidhu, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 652, decided on 19.05.2022]

Counsels

For Complainant: Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra

For Sidhu: Senior Advocate Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi

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