February 8, 2023

Significance and Compelling reasons for registration of FIR at the earliest

The object sought to be achieved by registering the earliest information as FIR is inter alia twofold:

One, that the criminal process is set into motion and is well documented from the very start; and

Second, that the earliest information received in relation to the commission of a cognizable offence is recorded so that there cannot be any embellishment etc., later

Reasons for a well-documented information

Principles of democracy and liberty demand a regular and efficient check on police powers. One way of keeping check on authorities with such powers is by documenting every action of theirs. Accordingly, under the Code, actions of the police etc., are provided to be written and documented.

For example, in case of arrest under Section 41(1)(b) of the Code, arrest memo along with the grounds has to be in writing mandatorily; under Section 55 of the Code, if an officer is deputed to make an arrest, then the superior officer has to write down and record the offence etc., for which the person is to be arrested; under Section 91 of the Code, a written order has to be passed by the concerned officer to seek documents; under Section 160 of the Code, a written notice has to be issued to the witness so that he can be called for recording of his/her statement, seizure memo/panchnama has to be drawn for every article seized etc.

General Diary

The police is required to maintain several records including Case Diary as provided under Section 172 of the Code, General Diary as provided under Section 44 of the Police Act etc., which helps in documenting every information collected, spot visited and all the actions of the police officers so that their activities can be documented. Moreover, every information received relating to commission of a non-cognizable offence also has to be registered under Section 155 of the Code.

The underpinnings of compulsory registration of FIR is not only to ensure transparency in the criminal justice delivery system but also to ensure judicial oversight. Section 157(1) deploys the word forthwith. Thus, any information received under Section 154(1) or otherwise has to be duly informed in the form of a report to the Magistrate. Thus, the commission of a cognizable offence is not only brought to the knowledge of the investigating agency but also to the subordinate judiciary.

Two kinds of FIRs

The Code contemplates two kinds of FIRs. The duly signed FIR under Section 154(1) is by the informant to the concerned officer at the police station. The second kind of FIR could be which is registered by the police itself on any information received or other than by way of an informant [Section 157(1)] and even this information has to be duly recorded and the copy should be sent to the Magistrate forthwith.

Importance of the FIR

The registration of FIR either on the basis of the information furnished by the informant under Section 154(1) of the Code or otherwise under Section 157(1) of the Code is obligatory. The obligation to register FIR has inherent advantages:

  1. It is the first step to access to justice for a victim
  2. It upholds the Rule of Law inasmuch as the ordinary person brings forth the commission of a cognizable crime in the knowledge of the State.
  3. It also facilitates swift investigation and sometimes even prevention of the crime. In both cases, it only effectuates the regime of law.
  4. It leads to less manipulation in criminal cases and lessens incidents of ante-dates FIR or deliberately delayed FIR.

In Thulia Kali vs. State of Tamil Nadu (1972) 3 SCC 393, the Court held as under: –

First information report in a criminal case is an extremely vital and valuable piece of evidence for the purpose of corroborating the oral evidence adduced at the trial. The importance of the above report can hardly be overestimated from the standpoint of the accused.

The object of insisting upon prompt lodging of the report to the police in respect of commission of an offence is to obtain early information regarding the circumstances in which the crime was committed, the names of the actual culprits and the part played by them as well as the names of eyewitnesses present at the scene of occurrence. Delay in lodging the first information report quite often results in embellishment which is a creature of afterthought.

On account of delay, the report not only gets bereft of the advantage of spontaneity, danger creeps in of the introduction of coloured version, exaggerated account or concocted story as a result of deliberation and consultation. It is, therefore, essential that the delay in the lodging of the first information report should be satisfactorily explained…

In CBI vs. Tapan Kumar Singh (2003) 6 SCC 175, it was held as under: –

20. It is well settled that a first information report is not an encyclopaedia, which must disclose all facts and details relating to the offence reported. An informant may lodge a report about the commission of an offence though he may not know the name of the victim or his assailant. He may not even know how the occurrence took place. A first informant need not necessarily be an eyewitness so as to be able to disclose in great detail all aspects of the offence committed.

What is of significance is that the information given must disclose the commission of a cognizable offence and the information so lodged must provide a basis for the police officer to suspect the commission of a cognizable offence. At this stage it is enough if the police officer on the basis of the information given suspects the commission of a cognizable offence, and not that he must be convinced or satisfied that a cognizable offence has been committed. If he has reasons to suspect, on the basis of information received, that a cognizable offence may have been committed, he is bound to record the information and conduct an investigation.

At this stage it is also not necessary for him to satisfy himself about the truthfulness of the information. It is only after a complete investigation that he may be able to report on the truthfulness or otherwise of the information. Similarly, even if the information does not furnish all the details he must find out those details in the course of investigation and collect all the necessary evidence.

The information given disclosing the commission of a cognizable offence only sets in motion the investigative machinery, with a view to collect all necessary evidence, and thereafter to take action in accordance with law. The true test is whether the information furnished provides a reason to suspect the commission of an offence, which the police officer concerned is empowered under Section 156 of the Code to investigate.

If it does, he has no option but to record the information and proceed to investigate the case either himself or depute any other competent officer to conduct the investigation. The question as to whether the report is true, whether it discloses full details regarding the manner of occurrence, whether the accused is named, and whether there is sufficient evidence to support the allegations are all matters which are alien to the consideration of the question whether the report discloses the commission of a cognizable offence. Even if the information does not give full details regarding these matters, the investigating officer is not absolved of his duty to investigate the case and discover the true facts, if he can.

Effects of registration of FIRs and arrest after that

Making registration of information relating to commission of a cognizable offence mandatory would help the society, especially, the poor in rural and remote areas of the country.

Burking of crime leads to dilution of the rule of law in the short run; and also has a very negative impact on the rule of law in the long run since people stop having respect for rule of law. Thus, non-registration of such a large number of FIRs leads to a definite lawlessness in the society.

While registration of FIR is mandatory, arrest of the accused immediately on registration of FIR is not at all mandatory. In fact, registration of FIR and arrest of an accused person are two entirely different concepts under the law, and there are several safeguards available against arrest. Moreover, it is also pertinent to mention that an accused person also has a right to apply for anticipatory bail under the provisions of Section 438 of the Code if the conditions mentioned therein are satisfied. Thus, in appropriate cases, he can avoid the arrest under that provision by obtaining an order from the Court.

The registration of FIR under Section 154 of the Code and arrest of an accused person under Section 41 are two entirely different things. It is not correct to say that just because FIR is registered, the accused person can be arrested immediately. It is the imaginary fear that merely because FIR has been registered, it would require arrest of the accused and thereby leading to loss of his reputation and it should not be allowed by this Court to hold that registration of FIR is not mandatory to avoid such inconvenience to some persons.

The remedy lies in strictly enforcing the safeguards available against arbitrary arrests made by the police and not in allowing the police to avoid mandatory registration of FIR when the information discloses commission of a cognizable offence.

This can also be seen from the fact that Section 151 of the Code allows a police officer to arrest a person, even before the commission of a cognizable offence, in order to prevent the commission of that offence, if it cannot be prevented otherwise. Such preventive arrests can be valid for 24 hours.

Besides, the Code gives power to the police to close a matter both before and after investigation. A police officer can foreclose an FIR before an investigation under Section 157 of the Code, if it appears to him that there is no sufficient ground to investigate the same. The Section itself states that a police officer can start investigation when he has a reason to suspect the commission of an offence.

In such a situation, registration of an FIR is mandatory. However, if no cognizable offence is made out in the information given, then the FIR need not be registered immediately and perhaps the police can conduct a sort of preliminary verification or inquiry for the limited purpose of ascertaining as to whether a cognizable offence has been committed. But, if the information given clearly mentions the commission of a cognizable offence, there is no other option but to register an FIR forthwith.

Other considerations are not relevant at the stage of registration of FIR, such as, whether the information is falsely given, whether the information is genuine, whether the information is credible etc. These are the issues that have to be verified during the investigation of the FIR. At the stage of registration of FIR, what is to be seen is merely whether the information given ex facie discloses the commission of a cognizable offence. If, after investigation, the information given is found to be false, there is always an option to prosecute the complainant for filing a false FIR.

Reference

Lalita Kumari v. Govt. of UP. (2013)