Updated: May 20, 2022 1:14:04 am
FOUR YEARS after it let off Navjot Singh Sidhu with a fine of Rs 1,000 over the death of a 65-year-old man in a road rage case of 1988, the Supreme Court on Thursday enhanced the punishment on a plea from the victim’s family and sentenced the former cricketer and ex-Punjab Congress chief to a year’s rigorous imprisonment — apart from the fine.
Soon after the order became public, Sidhu posted on Twitter: “Will submit to the majesty of law…” Earlier in the day, the Congress leader had led a protest against inflation in Patiala, sitting on an elephant and holding a banner that read: “Elephant rise in prices.”
In the apex court, allowing a plea filed by the family of Gurnam Singh for a review of the 2018 judgment that let Sidhu off with the fine, a bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and S K Kaul said “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 then 25-year-old cricketer’s “physical fitness”.
The bench said there was “error apparent on the face of the record needing some remedial action”. It said “indulgence was not required to be shown at the stage of sentence by only imposing a sentence of fine and letting the respondent go without any imposition of sentence”.
Will submit to the majesty of law ….
— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) May 19, 2022
The court pointed out that Sidhu, at the time, “was an international cricketer, who was tall and well built and aware of the force of a blow that even his hand would carry” during the altercation that led to Singh’s death in Patiala on December 27, 1988.
“The blow was not inflicted on a person identically physically placed but a 65-year-old person, more than double his age,” it said, adding that Sidhu “cannot say that he did not know the effect of the blow or plead ignorance on this aspect”. 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”, it said.
The court said that while a disproportionately severe sentence should not be passed, a “manifestly inadequate” sentence “would fail to produce a deterrent effect on the society at large”.
#WATCH | Chandigarh: “No comment,” says Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu upon being asked about Supreme Court sentencing him to one-year rigorous imprisonment in a three-decade-old road rage case. pic.twitter.com/tzhDo99kO0
— ANI (@ANI) May 19, 2022
It said that “any undue sympathy to impose an inadequate sentence would do more harm to the justice system and undermine the public confidence in the efficacy of law”. “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,” the bench, adding that the punishment “should conform to and be consistent with the atrocity and brutality with which the crime has been perpetrated”.
Pointing to the need for proportionality, it said “the sentencing philosophy for an offence has a social goal that the sentence has to be based on the principle that the accused must realise that the crime committed by him has not only created a dent in his life but also a concavity in the social fabric”.
The court said criminal jurisprudence has with passage of time also laid emphasis on victimology, “which fundamentally is a perception of a trial from the viewpoint of the criminal as well as the victim”. “Both are viewed in the social context and, thus, victims’ rights have to be equally protected,” it said.
“Thus, 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 bench said.
“A disproportionately light punishment”, said the court, “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 said.
According to the prosecution, Sidhu and his friend Rupinder Sandhu were in a vehicle and had an altercation with Gurnam Singh after the latter asked them to give way. Police claimed that Singh was beaten up by Sidhu, who later fled the scene. The victim was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead, the police said.
Sidhu and Sandhu were acquitted by the trial court in September 1999. But the Punjab and Haryana High Court reversed this order in December 2006 and convicted the two for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Sidhu was sentenced to three years in prison.
The duo challenged this in the Supreme Court where a bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Kaul set the order aside and instead held Sidhu guilty under section 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) of the IPC, and imposed the fine.
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