Five observations from the SC ruling on Navjot Singh Sidhu

In May 2018, a division bench comprising Justice J Chelameshwar (since retired) and Justice S K Kaul had held that Sidhu’s offence did not amount to ‘culpable offence not amounting to murder’ and instead found him guilty for ‘voluntarily causing hurt’ under Section 323 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and let him off with a fine of Rs 1,000. Victim Gurnam Singh’s family had filed a review petition challenging the 2018 verdict.

Here are five observations from the SC judgment delivered by the bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul on Thursday:

1. A 25-year-old man, who was physically fit and strong, 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. That it would cause the death of a person is another matter since the conviction is only under Section 323 of the IPC.

2. Quoting the Dharma Shastra, the judges said the person dispensing justice should prescribe a penance appropriate to the age, the time and strength of the sinner, the penance being such that he may not lose his life and yet he may be purified. A penance causing distress should not be prescribed.

3. The court said, “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.”

4. Referring to punishment for voluntarily causing hurt (Section 323 of the IPC), the ruling states: “Whoever, except in the case provided for by Section 334, voluntarily causes hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both. We do believe that the 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.”

5. “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 respondent No.1 and, therefore, no question of choosing between two possible views arises,” the court said.

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