Cognizance is an act of the court. The term ‘cognizance’ has not been defined in the Cr.P.C. To understand what this term means we will have to have a look at certain provisions of the Cr.P.C.

Chapter XIV

Chapter XIV of the Code deals with ‘Conditions requisite for initiation of proceedings’. Section 190 thereof empowers a Magistrate to take cognizance upon,

(a) receiving a complaint of facts which constitute such offence;

(b) upon a police report of such facts;

(c) upon information received from any person other than a police officer, or upon his own knowledge, that such offence has been committed.

Chapter XV

Chapter XV relates to ‘Complaints to Magistrates’. Section 200 thereof provides for examination of the complainant and the witnesses on oath. Section 201 provides for the procedure which a Magistrate who is not competent to take cognizance has to follow. Section 202 provides for postponement of issue of process.

He may, if he thinks fit, and shall in a case where the accused is residing at a place beyond the area in which he exercises his jurisdiction, postpone the issue of process against the accused and either inquire into the case himself or direct an investigation to be made by a police officer for the purpose of deciding whether there is sufficient ground for proceeding.

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVI relates to commencement of proceedings before the Magistrate. Section 204 provides for issue of process. Under this section if the Magistrate is of the opinion that there is sufficient ground for proceeding and the case appears to be a summons case, he shall issue summons for the attendance of the accused. In a warrant case, he may issue a warrant. Thus, after initiation of proceedings detailed in Chapter XIV, comes the stage of commencement of proceedings covered by Chapter XVI.

In Jamuna Singh & Ors. v. Bhadai Shah[1], relying on R.R. Chari v. The State of Uttar Pradesh 1951 AIR 207 and Gopal Das Sindhi & Ors. v. State of Assam & Anr.[ 1961 CriLJ 39], Supreme Court held that it is well settled that when on a petition or complaint being filed before him, a Magistrate applies his mind for proceeding under the various provisions of Chapter XVI of the Cr.P.C., he must be held to have taken cognizance of the offences mentioned in the complaint.

After referring to the provisions of the Cr.P.C. quoted hereinabove, in S.K. Sinha, Chief Enforcement … vs Videocon International Ltd. & Ors [2008], Supreme Court explained what is meant by the term ‘taking cognizance’. The relevant observations of this Court could be quoted:

“19. The expression “cognizance” has not been defined in the Code. But the word (cognizance) is of indefinite import. It has no esoteric or mystic significance in criminal law. It merely means “become aware of” and when used with reference to a court or a Judge, it connotes “to take notice of judicially”.

It indicates the point when a court or a Magistrate takes judicial notice of an offence with a view to initiating proceedings in respect of such offence said to have been committed by someone.

20. “Taking cognizance” does not involve any formal action of any kind. It occurs as soon as a Magistrate applies his mind to the suspected commission of an offence. Cognizance is taken prior to commencement of criminal proceedings. Taking of cognizance is thus a sine qua non or condition precedent for holding a valid trial. Cognizance is taken of an offence and not of an offender. Whether or not a Magistrate has taken cognizance of an offence depends on the facts and circumstances of each case and no rule of universal application can be laid down as to when a Magistrate can be said to have taken cognizance.”

In ‘Sara Mathew v. Inst. Cardio Vascular Disease (2013)’, the court said, “a Magistrate takes cognizance when he applies his mind or takes judicial notice of an offence with a view to initiating proceedings in respect of offence which is said to have been committed. This is the special connotation acquired by the term ‘cognizance’ and it has to be given the same meaning wherever it appears in Chapter XXXVI. It bears repetition to state that taking cognizance is entirely an act of the Magistrate. Taking cognizance may be delayed because of several reasons. It may be delayed because of systemic reasons. It may be delayed because of the Magistrate’s personal reasons.”

[1] 1964 AIR 1541