The Supreme Court ruled that the intent of the Army Act is not to protect army personnel by awarding them lesser punishment even for serious offenses.
Lance Naik Rajesh Kumar of 17 Mountain Division of the Indian Army lodged a First Information Report before the Station House Officer at the Sadar Police Station in Gangtok stating inter alia that on the relevant date at around 6.00 p.m., when he returned to his barracks, he struck up a conversation with two riflemen for a short while. After that, as he was freshening up, he heard sounds of gunshots inside the barracks. He immediately rushed to the barracks and witnessed the respondent, Lance Naik Jasbir Singh, opening fire on a rifleman, Balbir Singh, with an INSAS Rifle. The informant pulled the respondent-accused out of the barracks along with the rifle and simultaneously raised an alarm for help, on which Signalmen Ujjal Sinha and C.H. Anil arrived at the spot. The accused, in the meanwhile, escaped from the clutches of the informant. The informant then immediately rang up the medical room and returned to check on the injured rifleman, by which time he suspected that he was already dead.
Vivek Kohli, Advocate General appearing on behalf of the appellant-State contended that the High Court and Sessions Court have both failed to appreciate that the criminal courts and court-martial have concurrent jurisdiction to try a case, depending on the “discretion” exercised under Section 125 of the Army Act.
Advocate Pradeep Kumar Dey, appearing on behalf of the respondent-accused, contended that Sections 125 and 126 operate in different spheres. Section 125 relates to the discretion of the Army authorities to the effect that when a criminal court and a court-martial both have jurisdiction in respect of an offense, it shall be the discretion of the Commanding Officer to decide before which court the proceedings shall be instituted.
The division bench of Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Justice Surya Kant stated that the words of the statute clearly indicate that the legislature provided different punishments for serious offenses which under law are punishable with death or life imprisonment, and for all other offenses.
The court found that the High Court was in error in affirming, in the exercise of its revisional jurisdiction, the decision of the Sessions Judge that the court-martial alone would have jurisdiction.
The court allowed the appeal and set aside impugned judgment of the Single Judge of the High Court of Sikkim in Criminal Revision and ordered that the respondent-accused shall be transferred from military custody to civil custody to face trial.
Case title: The State of Sikkim v/s Jasbir Singh & Anr.
Citation: Criminal Appeal No. 85 of 2022