IS IT INCUMBENT UPON THE POLICE OFFICER TO REGISTER AN FIR?

Lalita Kumari v. Govt. of UP[1]

First Information Report, in short, known as FIR is nowhere explicitly defined in the Criminal Procedural Code, 1973 but it is known to be the earliest report that is initiated to the police officer and the investigation would begin thereafter. The Apex Court in the famous case of Ravi Kumar v. the State of Punjab[2] defined FIR as a report providing details about the commission of an offence that is cognizable. The constitutional bench of the Apex Court in the case of Lalita Kumari v. the State of U.P.[3] dealt in detail with the legal status of registering a First Information Report (FIR) by the police officer.

In this landmark case of Lalita Kumari v. Govt. of U.P.[4], a Writ Petition was filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India by a minor girl, named Lalita Kumari. Lalita Kumari was a minor hence, the First Information Report was filed through Shri Bhola Kamat, who is the father of the minor girl, requesting for the issuance of a writ of Habeas Corpus for his daughter who was hijacked. It was stated that the officer- in charge of the Police station, despite several attempts made by the father of Lalita Kumari, did not initiate any investigation thus, a writ of Habeas Corpus shall be issued. Even after filing an FIR, the officer- in charge did not initiate the investigation and hence no steps were taken by the police to nab the accused or recover the minor girl. According to the allegation made by the father of the minor girl, Shri Bhola Kamat, “he was asked to pay money for initiating the investigation and to arrest the accused persons”.[5]

The sole issue that arose, in this case, was whether a police officer is under an obligation to register a First Information Report (FIR) under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedural Code, 1973 concerning any offence of cognizable nature and whether the police officer is competent to conduct a ‘preliminary inquiry prior to registering the FIR.

The Petitioners contended that upon receiving information regarding the commission of an offence of cognizable nature, it is incumbent upon the officer- in charge of the concerned Police station to register a First Information Report as prescribed under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedural Code, 1973. The Petitioners opined that under Section 154(1) of the Criminal Procedural Code, 1973, the term “shall” is used with a motive to make registering a First information report (FIR) compulsory for the officer- in charge of the police station. He contended that according to Section 154, there have been no implicit provisions laid down with respect to the preliminary inquiry and similarly, there is no discretion vested with him. In support of this argument, he cited various precedents before the Court. Defendant, opposing this contention, argued that the officer- in charge of the Police station is not bound under any law to register a case on disclosure of a commission of a cognizable offence, rather in the cases he deems to be suitable, to hold a preliminary inquiry to check the veracity of the allegations made in the report.

He said that the registration of a First information report (FIR) cannot be subjected to a straitjacket formula as it is an administrative act that requires the application of mind, scrutiny, and verification of the facts. He further stated that interpretation of every statute should be done in consonance with the provisions laid down under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India which lays down the protection to an innocent person from baseless charges. Thus, an officer- in charge should be outfitted with the force of leading a preliminary inquiry.

After hearing the contentions of both the parties to the suit, a five-judge bench consisting of Justice Palanisamy Gounder Sathasivam, B.S. Chauhan, Ranjan Gogoi, Sharad Arvind Bobde, Ranjana Prakash Desai observed that under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedural Code, 1973,  it is registering a First information report (FIR) is compulsory for the officer- in charge of the Police station in case of a disclosure of a commission of an offence which is cognizable and there shall be no need to conduct a preliminary inquiry in such a case.

Further, the Apex Court opined that in a case where there is not a disclosure of commission of a cognizable offence but the situation indicates the requirement of an inquiry, then a preliminary inquiry may be conducted only with a motive to verify if there was a commission of a cognizable offence or not. It further said that if the inquiry suggests that there a cognizable offence was committed, then a First information report (FIR) is to be registered and if it ends in closing the complaint, a copy of such closure shall be provided to the informant within 7 days. It must state the reasons for the closure of the complaint.

CONCLUSION

The Apex Court vehemently expressed that the officer- in charge of the Police station cannot escape from his duty of registering an offence if it is disclosed to him that a cognizable offence has been committed, i.e., it is incumbent upon the officer-in-charge of the police station to register a First Information Report if the commission of a cognizable offence has been brought under his notice. The Supreme Court of India also said that the scope of preliminary inquiry is not to verify the veracity but it only restricts to ensure if the information that has been provided reveals any offence of cognizable nature. Furthermore, the Court mentioned the particular type of cases in which a preliminary inquiry is to be carried out. Also, the Supreme Court of India intending to protect the rights of the accused and the complainant expressed that a preliminary inquiry should be made time-bound and in any case should be conducted with a period of 7 days.

This judgment of the Apex Court of India received diverse opinions. While some backed it, some challenged it too. In my opinion, the judgment stands right though, a balance is to be maintained between a fair and speedy trial and the principles of natural justice cannot be put at stake in order to achieve speedy dispensation of justice. It serves as a valuable 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. It is imperative for the Courts to ensure that this is not used adversely.

Author(s) Name: Riddhi Goyal (Amity University, Noida)

References:

[1] (2014) 2 SCC 1.

[2] (2005) 9 SCC 315.

[3] Ibid 1.

[4] Ibid 1.

[5] Ibid 1.

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