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In Navjot Singh Sidhu's Case, Supreme Court Rules That Disproportionately Light Punishment Humiliates And Frustrates Crime Victim

Mridul Gupta ,
  21 May 2022       Share Bookmark

Court :
The Hon'ble Supreme Court
Brief :

Citation :
Review Petition (Crl.) No.477 of 2018 in CRL.A. No.60 of 2007

CAUSE TITLE:
Jaswinder Singh (Dead) Through Legal Representative v. Navjot Singh Sidhu And Ors.

DATE OF JUDGEMENT:
19 May 2022

JUDGE(S):
The Honourable Mr. Justice A.M. Khanwilkar
The Honourable Mr. Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul

PARTIES:
Petitioner(s): Jaswinder Singh (Dead) Through Legal Representative
Respondent(s): Navjot Singh Sidhu And Ors.

SUBJECT

In March 2022, a bench of Justices A. M. Khanwilkar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul reserved its decision in a review petition filed by the family of a victim who died in the incident. A review application was filed by the complainant in which notice was issued limited to the question of enlargement of sentence qua respondent no.1.

OVERVIEW

  • The Informant and one other person were travelling in the deceased's car, which was driven by the deceased. Apparently, a disagreement between the accused and the deceased erupted on the road, and the respondent came out of his vehicle, pulled the deceased from his vehicle, and administered fist strikes. The accused allegedly took the keys to the deceased's car and fled the scene of the crime. When the deceased was transferred to the hospital, the doctors declared him dead.
  • Following the trial, the Trial Court acquitted both of the accused.
  • The complainant moved the High Court vide appeals. The High Court convicted respondent No.1 under Section 304 Part II of the IPC based on the testimony of the doctors, and witnesses.
  • The two accused and the Informant filed three criminal appeals with the Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court reviewed the High Court decision and concluded that the witnesses' testimony was credible. The post-mortem report was thoroughly studied. The Supreme Court disagreed with the High Court's conclusion that the death was caused by subdural haemorrhage rather than cardiac arrest. The cause of death of the victim was reported to be unknown, and no weapon was used, nor was there any prior enmity between the parties, and what transpired was the consequence of an instant scuffle.
  • Respondent No.1 was held not guilty of causing the victim's death, and the only permissible result was that respondent No.1 caused voluntary harm, punishable under Section 323 of the IPC. In terms of punishment, an order imposed a fine of Rs.1,000/-.
  • The complaint filed a review application.

ISSUES

  • Whether the scope of the review petition be expanded?
  • Whether the sentence of Rs 1000/- imposed as a fine be enhanced?

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE PETITIONER

  • Learned Counsel attempted to convince the Court to broaden the notice to include the entire aspect of review rather than just the subject of sentencing. Richpal Singh Meena v. Ghasi [(2014) 8 SCC 918] made the argument that circumstances where a homicide occurred but the conviction was solely for causing grievous hurt may even fall within Section 300 (thirdly) of the IPC and thus demand reconsideration. It was also argued that a 34-year wait cannot be utilised to acquit the accused when the delay was not caused by the complainants or victims.
  • It was argued that the penalty imposed under Section 323 of the IPC was not in accordance with sentencing principles, and that the observations on sentencing in Sunil Dutt Sharma v. State [(2014) 4 SCC 375], albeit for a death sentence, would equally apply for lesser offences. It was held that both aggravating and mitigating circumstances had to be examined before settling on a sentence that was commensurate to the offence and took deterrence into account.There can be no leniency in sentence when the harm/injury had resulted in death, nor can the delay in trial be considered because it was not caused by the complainants. Thus, it was argued that simply because it was a spontaneous incident in which no weapon was used, it could not be utilised to inflict a modest and harmless punishment of a Rs.1,000/- fine.

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENTS

  • It was emphasised that the incident was 34 years old pertaining to a dispute of right of way. The case had gone through several rounds of scrutiny at several stages and now re-assessing the merits of the case in terms of the charge against the respondent would be subversive of the basic foundations of criminal justice system.
  • It was urged that a review petition on the quantum of sentence was not maintainable. It was submitted that the victim’s right to appeal ought to be restricted to only three eventualities, i.e., acquittal of the accused, conviction for lesser offence, or for imposing inadequate compensation, but there was no provision of appeal for the victim to question the quantum of sentence as inadequate. Learned senior counsel also relied upon the judgment of Supreme Court in Manohar Singh v. State of Rajasthan [(2015) 3 SCC 449], to contend that even a fine is fully adequate without any incarceration when there is a prolonged time since the date of occurrence.
  • A review petition on the quantum of sentence was argued to be not maintainble. It was argued that the victim's ability to appeal should be limited to three scenarios: acquittal of the accused, conviction for a lesser offence, or imposition of insufficient compensation, but there was no provision for the victim to challenge the magnitude of penalty as insufficient. Learned senior counsel further used the Supreme Court's decision in Manohar Singh v. State of Rajasthan [(2015) 3 SCC 449] to argue that even a fine was sufficient without incarceration where the incidence occurred a long time ago.

JUDGEMENT ANALYSIS

  • The Court declined to broaden the notice beyond the aspect of sentence. The evidence had been thoroughly examined in order to determine the nature of the hurt. The Court flatly denied the argument for broadening the scope of the review application.
  • According to the Court, some material aspects that were required to be considered appeared to have been overlooked at the sentencing stage, such as respondent No.1's physical fitness as 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 delivered to a 65-year-old man, more than double his age, rather than a person in the same physical position. Respondent No.1 cannot claim ignorance or claim that he was unaware of the effect of the blow. It's not as if he needed to be reminded of the severity of the injuries that could result from a blow inflicted by him. Temperaments may have been lost in the given conditions, but the consequences of the loss of temper must be accepted. Indeed, the Supreme Court had been somewhat liberal in eventually finding respondent No.1 guilty of an offence of simple injury under Section 323 of the IPC. While recognising that criminal jurisprudence has historically placed focus on victimology, which is essentially a perception of a trial from the perspectives of both the offender and the victim, the bench remarked that victim's rights must be equally respected. As a result, the Supreme Court ruled that the current case does not allow for two opposing viewpoints and that no review should be granted.It is a case in which some relevant factors for punishment appear to have been overlooked while imposing simply a fine on Sidhu, and hence no dilemma of choosing between two alternative outcomes arises. According to the court, the "victim's defenceless and unprotected state" must be considered in this case. As a result, a disproportionately low punishment humiliates and frustrates a victim of crime when the criminal remains unpunished or is let free with a comparatively little punishment since the system disregards the injured's sentiments. Indifference to the rights of crime victims is weakening society's and crime victims' trust in the criminal justice system.

CONCLUSION

  • The review applications/petitions were allowed to the extent stated, and in addition to the fine imposed, the Court deemed it appropriate to impose a sentence of imprisonment for a period of one year rigorous imprisonment on respondent No.1. (Navtoj Singh Sidhu).

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