Compulsory registration of FIR is first step in "access to justice" for a victim
The police must compulsorily register the First Information Report on receiving a complaint if the information discloses a cognisable offence, and no preliminary inquiry is permissible in such a situation, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.
If the information does not disclose a cognisable offence but indicates the necessity for an inquiry, “a preliminary inquiry may be conducted only to ascertain whether a cognisable offence is disclosed or not,” said a Constitution Bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices B.S. Chauhan, Ranjana Desai, Ranjan Gogoi and S.A. Bobde.
Interpreting Section 154 of the Cr.PC, the Bench said it was mandatory for the police to register an FIR on receipt of a complaint. Since conflicting judgments had been given by courts on the issue, the matter was referred to the five-judge Bench for an authoritative ruling.
Writing the judgment, the CJI said: “In cases wherein preliminary inquiry ends in closing of the complaint, a copy of the entry of such closure must be supplied to the first informant forthwith and not later than a week. It must also disclose reasons in brief for closing the complaint…”
The Bench said: “The police officer cannot avoid his duty of registering offence, if cognisable offence is disclosed. Action must be taken against officers who do not register the FIR if the information received by him/her discloses a cognisable offence. The scope of preliminary inquiry is not to verify … the information but to ascertain whether it reveals any cognisable offence.”
The Bench said the type of cases wherein preliminary inquiry was to be conducted would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. The cases in which preliminary inquiry might be made included matrimonial/ family disputes; commercial offences; medical negligence/corruption; and cases wherein there was abnormal delay in initiating criminal prosecution, for example, over three months of delay in reporting the matter without satisfactorily explaining the reasons. “These are only illustrations and not exhaustive of all conditions which may warrant preliminary inquiry. While ensuring and protecting the rights of the accused and the complainant, a preliminary inquiry should be made time-bound, and in any case it should not exceed seven days.”
As the General Diary/Station Diary/Daily Diary was the record of all information received at a police station, all information on cognisable offences, whether they resulted in registration of an FIR or led to an inquiry, must be mandatorily and meticulously reflected in it, the Bench said.
Compulsory registration of the FIR was to ensure transparency not only in the criminal justice delivery system but also “judicial oversight.” It was the first step in “access to justice” for a victim. “While registration of an FIR is mandatory, arrest of the accused immediately thereafter is not at all mandatory. It [FIR] upholds the ‘Rule of Law’ inasmuch as the ordinary person brings forth the commission of a cognisable crime to the knowledge of the State. It also facilitates swift investigation and sometimes even prevention of the crime. In both cases, it only effectuates the regime of law,” the Bench said.