This post has been written by Monika Saini, a student of Maharashtra National Law University University.
First Information Report (FIR) is not defined anywhere in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). It is the earliest report that was submitted to the police officer with a view to his action and on the basis of which investigation begins. The Supreme Court of India (SC) in Ravi Kumar v State of Punjab defined FIR as a report giving details about the commission of the cognizable crime. It can be made by the complaint or by the complainant or by any other person having knowledge about the commission of such offence. The information received by the police officer has to be recorded in the manner provided in section 154 of CrPC.
An important question which may arise here is whether a police officer is bound to register a FIR upon receiving any information relating to commission of a cognizable offence under Section 154 of the CrPC or the police officer has the power to conduct a preliminary inquiry in order to test the veracity of such information before registering the same?
Apex court in Lalita Kumari vs. Government of Uttar Pradesh & Ors. held that if the information discloses commission of a cognizable offence then registration of FIR is mandatory under Section 154 of CrPC and no preliminary inquiry is permissible in such a situation except in some cases.
The question which may come to anyone’s mind is does SC took every aspect in mind while deciding that registration of FIR is mandatory under Section 154 of CrPC. The researcher tries to unpack the decision in order to explain the legal and social dilemmas associated with the compulsory registration of FIR. This case raises issues other than the statutory rules created, including the issue of preliminary investigation. The researcher argues that mandatory registration of FIR is unconstitutional and will have severe effects on our society. The researcher argues that the judgement curbs the necessary powers of the police which deprives them of the protections that are important when pursuing criminal redress, thereby undermining the very intent of citizens contacting the police to enforce their protections, which nullifying the intent of the criminal justice system.
2. LALITA KUMARI JUDGEMENT
BRIEF FACTS OF THE CASE:
In the present case, Bhola Kamat (the petitioner) filed a missing complaint at the police station, as Lalita Kumari, his minor daughter did not return for half an hour and he failed to locate her. Even after filing FIR against the respondents who were the chief suspects, the police took no action to trace Lalita Kumari. According to Bhola Kamat’s statement, he has been asked to pay money to start the inquiry and arrest the accused. Hence, the petitioner filed this petition under 32 of the constitution.
JUDGEMENT OF THE SUPREME COURT
In this judgement SC observed that
i. Upon receipt of information about a cognizable offence, it is the duty of police office to register an FIR under Section 154 of CrPC.
It relied on decisions by this court in State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal , Ramesh Kumari v. State (NCT of Delhi) and Parkash Singh Badal v. State of Punjab. In Lallan Chaudhary v. State of Bihar, the SC held that Section 154 clearly mandates that if any information disclosing a cognizable offence is laid before an officer in charge of a police station, such police officer has no other option but to register the case on the basis of such information. Credibility of the information is not a condition precedent to file a FIR.
ii. If the information received by the police officer is not about a cognisable offence but indicates that investigation is then preliminary investigation is allowed to conclude whether a cognisable offence took place or not.
iii. If the investigation hints towards commission of a cognisable offence then FIR must be registered.
Action must be taken against those police officers who fails to discharge their duty i.e. registration of FIR if information received by him is regarding a cognisable offence.
iv. The preliminary investigation should not be conducted to test the veracity of the information received but to ascertain whether cognisable offence took place or not.
v. There are some cases where preliminary inquiry is permitted. They are:
a. Matrimonial disputes/ family dispute
b. Commercial offences
c. Medical negligence cases
d. Corruption cases
e. Cases where there is abnormal delay/laches in initiating criminal prosecution, for example, over 3 months delay in reporting the matter without satisfactorily explaining the reasons for delay.
vi. The preliminary inquiry must be made time bound. It should be completed within 7 days.
vii. All information related to cognisable offence whether resulting in FIR or no, must be reflected in the General Diary.
3. RATIONALE BEHIND LALITA KUMARI JUDGEMENT
It was held that section 154(1) is mandatory in nature as the use of the word “shall” leaves out no room for discretion by the police. The use of this word tells us about the legislative intention. The legislative makers have not use words like ‘reasonable complaint’ and ‘credible information’ under section 154(1). The absence of these words shows that ‘reasonableness’ or ‘credibility’ of the received information is not a condition precedent for registration of a case. Use of the word “shall” does not mean police does not have any discretion. If it is a fake case, the FIR would become useless in the end. In that case, the police officer would submit a closure report to the magistrate.
Criminal law in India is alien to the concept of preliminary inquiry except in Prevention of Corruption Act and the offences which are investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The constitutional right to equality secured under Article 14 of Indian Constitution serves as a protection against arbitrary or unguided exercise of discretionary power conferred upon them by the statute. Notwithstanding the presumption in favour of statutory wisdom and authorities exercising authority in good faith, giving unfettered discretion to government officials through the use of broad and vague language in law clauses, strikes at the very foundations of justice, non-arbitrariness and equality.
It has been held by the apex court in Anwar Ali Sarkar v. State of West Bengal that mere possibility of abuse is not a ground to strike down a law and this has been reiterated in Maganlal Chaganlal v. Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay.
The Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System headed by Dr. Justice V.S. Malimath observed that according to Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, any oral or written information relating to the commission of a cognizable offence is required to be registered by the office incharge of a police station. Failure to file such incidents is a serious charge against the police officer.
4. CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF LALITA KUMARI JUDGEMENT
Lalita kumari judgement is a precedent in the criminal law as it makes filing of FIR mandatory, reasonableness’ or ‘credibility’ of the received information is not a condition precedent for registration of a case.
There are various SC decisions like P. Sirajuddin vs. State of Madras , Sevi vs. State of Tamil Nadu , Shashikant vs. Central Bureau of Investigation , and Rajinder Singh Katoch vs.Chandigarh Admn which states that police is not obliged to file a FIR as soon as he receives the information of the commission of a cognisable offence. Police officer is given the discretion to conduct preliminary enquiry and confirm the commission of the cognisable offence.
The SC in State v M. R. Hiremath opined that preliminary inquiry is permissible and elaborated its purpose as
“To ascertain whether a cognizable offence has been made out on the basis of which a first information report can be lodged. The basis of a first information report under Section 154 of the CrPC is information relating to the commission of a cognizable offence which is furnished to an officer- in charge of the police station.”
The registration of a FIR as an administrative act which demands the facts be applied, scrutinized and checked, since no administrative act can ever be mechanical. This requirement is laid by the rule of law. The term ‘shall’ used in the Statute does not necessarily indicate that there is no discretion in the hands of police.
FIR is not a condition precedent for setting criminal investigation in motion. An example is medical negligence. Failure to file a FIR does not result in crime going unnoticed or unpunished. If he is deprived of such power of preliminary enquiry, then the process will suffer from the vice of arbitrariness and unreasonability
However, there are certain things which need to be answered even after this landmark judgement. The conviction rate in India is very low which indicates towards the high number of fake cases filed in India. This leads to unnecessary harassment of innocent person because of unscrupulous complainants. Hence, preliminary inquiry after receiving information should precede the registration of FIR.
ARTICLE 14 & 21 OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION
The mandatory registration of FIR is contrary to Article 21 of the Indian constitution as it deprives a person of his life and liberty. This becomes even more dangerous when these cases are fake as you are taking an innocent person’s liberty on the basis of a fake complaint which violates Article 21 of the constitution.
Section 154 must be read in light of Article 21 of the constitution to mean that the police officer must be satisfied that there is a prima facie case for investigation before filing of a FIR as there are severe consequences of a FIR filed against an innocent person. If police officer does not have power to hold preliminary investigation then the procedure would become arbitrary in nature. For this purpose, it must be held that police has implied power for preliminary enquiry under Section 154 of the CrPC.
Giving discretionary power per se does not violate Article 14 of the constitution. Only when the authority’s discretion is so broad and unguided that it allows for a high likelihood of arbitrary exercise does it draw the sanction of Article 14. While the nature of the discretionary powers bestowed on the government can be wide in some matters if such discretion is guided by appropriate rules and principles that would prevent the abuse of the same.
JUDGEMENT ON SC/ST ACT
The SC in Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India said that police can conduct preliminary enquiry before filing a FIR under the act. Offences under SC/ST act are cognisable in nature. So what is the need to have preliminary enquiry when the information received would be about the commission of a non bailable offence? Why there is a contradiction created by SC?
The policemen are empowered to conduct preliminary enquiry and if the information is frivolous they have power not to file a FIR. Then what is the meaning of “mandatory registration of FIR” in Lalita kumari judgement.
INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF FAKE CASES
In a country like India where the police and judiciary is overburdened with work, if we make registration of FIR mandatory then it will deny justice to those against whom actually a serious and heinous crime is committed. Just is time consuming as there are so many fake cases which are registered. These fake cases affect the accused severely as his life socially and mentally gets completely changed. If an innocent person is wrongly implicated, he suffers not just from loss of credibility but also from mental stress and his personal freedom is seriously undermined.
A balance needs to be drawn between the rights of victim and accused. FIR must not be made mandatory as it increases the likelihood of its misuse. On the other hand, there should be some guidelines for police officers to finish the preliminary enquiry.
There should be a set timeline to finish the preliminary enquiry. The police must finish the preliminary enquiry within that time frame. After the preliminary enquiry, if the police is satisfied that case is genuine and actually a cognisable offence took place, the police officer must file the FIR. A copy of the pre-investigation report should be forwarded to the complainant.
To conclude, while discussing the nature of FIR, one must take some things into account like the number of fake cases is very large in number. It is a serious concern owing to the potential for abuse. If we make filing of FIR mandatory in nature then it will become really problematic. Police must have some discretion in deciding the credibility of the information received. If no prima facie case is made then it must not be made mandatory for them to file a FIR.
On account of above mentioned arguments i.e. the number of fake cases will increase which will affect innocent citizens. It is violative of Article 21 and is not violative of Article 14 of the Indian constitution. SC correctly highlighted the need for preliminary investigation in judgement on SC/ST act. It will create unnecessary fear in the minds of people that a small act by them can lead to filing of registration against them as revenge.
i. Anwar Ali Sarkar v. State of West Bengal, AIR 1952 SC 75.
ii. Harish Choudhary, LALITA KUMARI V. GOVT OF UTTAR PRADESH: TOUCHING UPON UNTOUCHED ISSUES.
iii. India Court Conviction Rate, CEIC, (Mar. 22, 2020, 8:08 PM, IST), https://www.ceicdata.com/en/india/crime-statistics/court-conviction-rat
iv. Khandige Sham Bhat v. The Agricultural Income tax officer, 1963 AIR 591.
v. Lalita Kumari vs. Government of Uttar Pradesh & Ors., (2014) 2 SCC 1.
vi. Lallan Chaudhary v. State of Bihar, AIR 2006 SC 3376.
vii. Maganlal Chaganlal v. Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay, AIR 1975 SC 2009.
viii. P. Sirajuddin vs. State of Madras, (1970) 1 SCC 595.
ix. Parkash Singh Badal v. State of Punjab, (2007) 1 SCC 1.
x. Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 159.
xi. Purushottam Govindji Halai v. BM Desai, 1956 AIR 20
xii. Rajinder Singh Katoch vs.Chandigarh Admn., (2007) 10 SCC 69.
xiii. Ramesh Kumari v. State (NCT of Delhi) and Ors, AIR 2006 SC 1322.
xiv. Ramesh Kumari v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2006) 2 SCC 677.
xv. Ravi kumar v State of Punjab, AIR 2005 SC 1929.
xvi. Registration of FIR in light of Lalita Kumari v. Govt. of Uttar Pradesh, Academike, (Mar. 22, 2020, 8:08 PM, IST), https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/registration-fir-light-lalita-kumari-v-govt-uttar-pradesh/
xvii. Sevi vs. State of Tamil Nadu, 1981 Supp SCC 43.
xviii. Shashikant vs. Central Bureau of Investigation, (2007) 1 SCC 630.
xix. State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal, 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335.
xx. State of Punjab v. Khan Chand, (1974) 2 S.C.R 768; KT Moopil Nair v. State of Kerala, (1961) 3 S.C.R. 1.
xxi. State vs M. R. Hiremath, (2019) 7 SCC 515.