It is an accepted proposition of law that a police officer who receives a complaint disclosing commission of cognisable offence is duty-bound to register a case, the Madras High Court has said.

A reading of section 154 Cr.P.C (Information in cognisable cases) would make it clear that the duty cast upon the police to register a case when a complaint disclosed commission of cognisable offence was absolute. The police could not hold any enquiry before registering a case. In the case of a non-cognisable offence, the police could not conduct investigation without an order of the magistrate as per section 155 Cr.P.C (Information as to non-cognisable cases and investigation of such cases), the court said.

Justice P.R. Shivakumar passed the order on a batch of petitions by Kathiravan and others, praying for a direction to Station House Officers of police stations concerned to register FIRs on the basis of complaints given by them.

The petitioners contended that though the complaints disclosed commission of cognisable offence, the police failed to discharge their mandatory duty of registering cases and investigating them. Relying upon section 154 Cr. P.C., they contended that police officers did not have the discretion either to register or not to register a case if a complaint disclosed commission of cognisable offence.

The police, relying upon certain Supreme Court judgments, submitted they did have a discretion either to register a case upon receiving a complaint containing allegations attracting cognisable offence or to conduct a preliminary enquiry to decide whether to register a case or not.

Mr. Justice Shivakumar said the Supreme Court had held that no investigation could be conducted by a police officer without registering a case in the case of cognisable offence and without getting the orders of a Magistrate if the complaint disclosed commission of non-cognisable offence alone. From the observations of the Supreme Court in various cases, it was quite obvious that police officers on receipt of a complaint disclosing commission of cognisable offence were duty bound to register the case and they could not probe the allegations to find out whether they were true or not without registering a case.

However, it did not mean that in no case the officer could conduct a preliminary enquiry to make a decision as to whether a case could be registered for being investigated in accordance with Cr. P.C. provisions. But, such cases were only exceptions to the general rule. Such exceptions should not be generalised.

The court said in all cases wherein the complaint disclosed commission of an offence exclusively triable by a sessions court, the High Court in exercise of its inherent powers should lean in favour of issuing a direction to the police to register a case. The Judge classified the petitioners’ cases into two classes and directed the police to register a case if a cognisable offence was made out and refer a matter to a magistrate if it disclosed a non-cognisable offence.

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