While enhancing the sentence of Navjot Singh Sidhu to one year imprisonment in the 1988 road rage case, the Supreme Court of India on Thursday made important observations regarding the necessity of maintaining a reasonable proportion between the seriousness of the crime and the punishment.
The observations have been made while allowing the review petition filed by victim's family against Supreme Court's 2018 verdict reducing Sidhu's sentence to Rs 1000 fine from 3 years imprisonment.
A bench of Justices A. M. Khanwilkar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul observed that while undue harshness is not required in awarding punishment, inadequate punishment may lead to sufferance of the community at large.
While emphasising on the importance of considering the principle of proportionality, the bench observed that a disproportionately light punishment humiliates and frustrates a crime's victim 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.
"While a disproportionately severe sentence ought not to be passed, simultaneously it also does not clothe the law courts to award a sentence which would be manifestly inadequate, having due regard to the nature of the offence, since an inadequate sentence would fail to produce a deterrent effect on the society at large." the bench has said
According to the court, any undue sympathy to impose inadequate sentence would do more harm to justice system and undermine the public confidence in the efficacy of law.
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
While opportunity to reform has to be kept in mind, the principle of proportionality also has to be equally kept in mind. The principle of just punishment is the bedrock of sentencing in respect of a criminal offence.
"..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. 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 bench stated.
Punishment Should Conform To & Be Consistent With Atrocity & Brutality: SC
The bench has observed that the punishment to be awarded for a crime must not be irrelevant but it should conform to and be consistent with the atrocity and brutality with which the crime has been perpetrated.
Consequences of the loss of temper must be borne:
According to the court, some material aspects like Sidhu's physical fitness and him being aware of the force his hand's blow would carry were missed out at the stage of sentencing.
According to the court, the "defenceless and unprotected state of victim" are to be taken note of in the present case.
The bench noted that the blow was not inflicted on a person identically physically placed but a 65 year old person, and Sidhu cannot plead ignorance on aspect of the effect of the blow.
"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 bench said
Unintended Consequence Of Harm Would Still Be Attributable To Him As It Was Reasonably Foreseeable: SC
The bench has opined 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 the victim's head, the unintended consequence of harm would still be properly attributable to him as it was reasonably foreseeable.
Victims's Rights Have To Be Equally Protect: While noting that criminal jurisprudence with the passage of time has laid emphasis on victimology, which fundamentally is a perception of a trial from the viewpoint of the criminal as well as the victim, the bench has observed that victim's rights have to be equally protected.
The Apex Court has therefore concluded that the present case is not one where two views are possible such that review should not be exercised. It is a case where some germane facts for sentencing appear to have been lost sight of while imposing only a fine on Sidhu and, therefore, no question of choosing between two possible views arises.
A bench of Justices A. M. Khanwilkar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul had in March this year reserved its judgement in a review petition preferred by the family of victim Gurnam Singh who had died in that incident.
On May 15, 2018 the Supreme Court bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul had acquitted Sidhu from the charge of Culpable Homicide not amounting to murder (U/S304) in the 1998 road rage Case. The acquittal was granted in the appeal filed by Sidhu against a December 2006 Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict conviction and sentencing him to three years in jail in a road rage case.
But the Bench found him guilty for S.323 IPC (voluntarily causing hurt) and sentenced him with a fine of Rs. 1000 only. His co-accused Rupinder Singh Sandhu was acquitted of all the charges.
The incident occurred on December 27, 1988, at a traffic junction in Patiala, when a dispute relating to the right way of vehicles led to Sidhu pulling out the deceased from his vehicle and assualting him with fist blows.
Case Title: Jaswinder Singh (Dead) Through Legal Representative v. Navjot Singh Sidhu And Ors.
Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 498
Summary : 1988 Road Rage Case -Sentence awarded to Navjot Singh Sidhu enhanced to one year imprisonment - 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 his (victim's) head, the unintended consequence of harm would still be properly attributable to him as it was reasonably foreseeable - The indulgence was not required to be shown at the stage of sentence by only imposing a sentence of fine and letting him go without any imposition of sentence.
Indian Penal Code, 1860 ; Section 323 - 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. This may be understood where a blow may be given either by a physically fit person or to a more aged person. (Para 24)
Indian Penal Code, 1860 ; Section 323 - 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. (Para 32)
Criminal Trial - Sentencing - Necessity of maintaining a reasonable proportion between the seriousness of the crime and the punishment - While a disproportionately severe sentence ought not to be passed, simultaneously it also does not clothe the law courts to award a sentence which would be manifestly inadequate, having due regard to the nature of the offence, since an inadequate sentence would fail to produce a deterrent effect on the society at large - A long period had lapsed by the time the appeal was decided cannot be a ground to award the punishment which was disproportionate and inadequate. (Para 25 -32)