The shocking incident of Harbhajan Singh reportedly punching/slapping Sreeshant after a Cricket match has raised many issues on Cricketer’s discipline. Simultaneously, it has brought to focus certain legal issues including the issue of “Video Rights” on the happenings during an event particularly when the video is part of evidence for a possible offence.

Though  the incident took place on 25th April, till date the public has been only able to see the video of a “Crying Sreeshant”. The video of the actual slapping or punching has not yet been broadcast. According to reports, the slapping act has been captured by one of the cameras covering the event and it has been viewed by some representatives of BCCI who have ordered an enquiry. The video is being blacked out from public view at least for the time being.

The incident however is a matter of public interest and hence it is suggested that BCCI has no right to put the evidence under wraps. As per the stand of BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), IPL  (Indian Premier League) is a tournament organized by BCCI and it has imposed several restrictions on the journalists covering the event. One such restriction is that all the photographs taken during the event are considered the assets of BCCI and it has the sole rights of its publication. The publication which the journalist represents only has limited publication rights.

These rights are drawn from the Copyright Act under the neighboring rights category. The current incident happened after the game was over and hence the question arises if the rights of BCCI extends beyond the game itself to any event that may occur in the stands or the dressing room.

Is this incident where a player slapped an opponent after the game part of the “event”?… so that BCCI can claim the exclusive rights? is a matter of debate while extending a Copyright like IPR to the video capturing the event.

Sreeshant himself appears to be downplaying the event by stating that the incident is “nothing but a handshake in the wrong place”. He has also played the filmy dialogue that Bhajji is like  his “brother” and he has no complaint. Is he doing it as a “Damage control” exercise under the directions of BCCI? or Is he lying because he feels “threatened” by Bhajji’s attack and alleged remarks that Sreeshant’s career would be hurt?.. The public have a right to know.

It must be noted that circumstantial evidence suggests that a criminal assault took place on the stadium (a public place) which had been under the control of BCCI  at the time of the incident. A question arises therefore if it is not appropriate that the Police take cognizance and file a case under IPC. The main accused would be Bhajji and there would be vicarious liability on BCCI as the organizer under whose control the incident was allowed to happen.

By withholding the video from publication, BCCI is preventing Police from accessing evidence of a criminal act and are therefore committing a punishable offence under CrPc.

We hope that the officials of BCCI realize that they are bound by the Criminal laws of India and recognize their liability. We also hope that the Police would not forget their duty and register a case without waiting for a formal complaint.

Even if BCCI or IPL award any punishment in the form of banning the accused from future matches, it would not absolve the responsibilities of the Police to book a case under IPC and try to prosecute the offender. It is entirely in the domain of a Court to consider if any further punishment is required to be given to the offender or if the action taken by the organization such as BCCI (like a departmental action) is a sufficient punishment.

In case no action is taken by the Police under IPC, it would create a precedent that “Crimes committed under  closed doors can be settled outside the legal process and the victim can be blackmailed into making statements that he has forgiven the offender and frustrate the legal process”.

This precedent would apply to other incidents which are also “offences under criminal law” for which a Company or a closed community may take disciplinary actions of its own such as employee crimes in which a departmental enquiry is held and action taken.

There is a need therefore to uphold the jurisdiction of law as extending to the Cricket Stadia and such other enclosed environments. It is also necessary that the apparent Victim should not have the  right to stand in the way of justice being rendered. This incident is outside the scope of an individual dispute as it relates to a Cricketer’s conduct and has ramifications which lie in the public domain. Hence no rights of “Compounding” by the victim should be recognized.

Perhaps it would be apt if  some public spirited organization in Mumbai  initiate a judicial proceeding to force Police to take action mandated in law.

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