By Apurva Rathee, Advocate

Introduction:

There are three stages through which an offence passes:

  • Investigation,
  • Inquiry, and
  • Trial

Out of these three stages, investigation is a function performed by police alone. According to Section 2(h) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973,[1] “investigation” includes all the proceedings under the Code for the collection of evidence conducted by a police officer or by any person (other than a magistrate) who is authorized by a magistrate.

Police can start with the investigation procedure once it receives information as to the commission of a cognizable offence. Information of a cognizable offence can reach the police through three channels:

  • First Information Report (F.I.R.),
  • Credible information, and
  • Personal knowledge.

Out of these three channels, information by way of F.I.R. is the most common channel. A first information report means the information, by whomsoever given, to the officer in charge of a police station, in relation to the commission of a cognizable offence and which is first in point of time and on the strength of which the investigation into that offence is commenced.[2]

The words ‘first information report’ have a legal import. Nowhere in Cr.P.C. have these words been used. Section 154 of Cr.P.C. gives the concept of F.I.R. F.I.R. is the earliest report made to the police officer with a view to his taking action in the matter.[3]

Object of F.I.R.:

The principle object of the F.I.R. from the point of view of the informant is to set the criminal law in motion and from the point of view of the investigating authorities is to obtain information about the alleged criminal activity so as to be able to take suitable steps to trace and bring to book the guilty.[4]

The purpose of recording the F.I.R. is to put into writing the statement of the informant before his memory fails or before he gets time and opportunity to embellish it. But the F.I.R. is not a condition precedent to the setting in motion of a criminal investigation.[5]

If information is received and recorded in accordance with Section 154, such F.I.R. becomes the basis of the case set up by the informant, even though it may not be admissible as substantive evidence, and it assumes importance if promptly made.

At the same time, the F.I.R. cannot be said to be the last word of the prosecution because it need not be made by an eye-witness nor is required to give full details. It merely marks the beginning of the investigation and its value must accordingly depend on the circumstances of each case, including the nature of the crime, the position of the informant and opportunity he had of witnessing the whole or part of the offence. It need not necessarily be given by a person who has first-hand knowledge of the incident; hence, it cannot be rejected as F.I.R. merely because it is based on hearsay.

The F.I.R. cannot serve as a conclusive test for determining the question whether there should be one or several trials of the several offences disclosed in the F.I.R. The matter has to be determined on the basis of the result of the investigation in the light of the provisions of the Code.

It is not the encyclopedia of the whole incident. Only essential or broad spectrum need be set out in the F.I.R. and all the minute details are not required to be stated therein. It may not be necessary to catalogue the acts therein and non-mentioning of some facts or vague reference to some others are not fatal.

F.I.R. is a vital material as it is first information about the incident and has less chances of altering the version and improvement. It is not substantive evidence and cannot contradict the testimony of the eye-witnesses but may contradict its maker.[6]

Mandatory Conditions of F.I.R.:

In the case of State of Maharashtra v. Ahmed Shaikh Babajan & Ors.,[7] the Hon’ble Supreme Court discussed in detail the contents of a F.I.R. as per Section 154 Cr.P.C.:-

  • The first information report is a report relating to the commission of a cognizable offence, given to the police and recorded by it under Section 154 of the Cr.P.C.
  • Recording of F.I.R. is not a condition precedent to the setting in motion of the criminal investigation yet from the view point of the investigating authorities it conveys to them earliest information regarding the circumstances in which the crime was committed, the names of the culprits and the role played by them as well as the names of the witnesses present at the scene of occurrence, so vital for effective and meaningful investigation.[8]
  • The information about an occurrence can be given by any person knowing about the commission of such an offence and not necessarily by the eye-witnesses.
  • Lodging of F.I.R. keeps the District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police informed of the occurrence of a cognizable offence and when it was recorded.
  • It is not the requirement of law that every minute detail of the occurrence needs to be recorded in the F.I.R.[9]
  • F.I.R. is not intended to be an encyclopedia of the back-ground scenario. Nevertheless, it must disclose the commission of an offence.
  • F.I.R. does not constitute substantive evidence though its importance as conveying the earliest information regarding the occurrence cannot be doubted. It can, however, only be used as a previous statement for the purpose of either corroborating its maker under Section 157 of the Indian Evidence Act or for contradicting him under Section 145 of that Act.[10]

     An analysis of Section 154 brings out the following points:

  1. The information is to be given to an officer in charge of the police station having jurisdiction for investigating the case [Section 154(1)].
  2. If the information is given orally to such officer, it shall be reduced to writing by the officer himself or under his direction [Section 154(1)].
  3. The information, if given in writing, or if reduced to writing as aforesaid, shall be signed by the informant [Section 154(1)].
  4. The information as taken down in writing shall be read over to the informant [Section 154(1)].
  5. The substance of the information is then to be entered by the police officer in a book kept by him in the prescribed form [Section 154(1)]. This book is called Station Diary or General Diary [Section 44 of the Police Act, 1861].
  6. The informant then shall forthwith be given a copy of the information as recorded in the aforesaid manner [Section 154(2)].[11]

From the above discussions, it is submitted that the following are the mandatory conditions or the standards of a F.I.R.:

  • F.I.R. is lodged for a cognizable offence

What Section 154 requires is that information must be in relation to “the commission of a cognizable offence”. A “cognizable offence” has been defined in Section 2(c) of Cr.P.C. as “Cognizable offence means an offence for which, and “cognizable case” means a case in which, a police officer may, in accordance with the First Schedule or under any other law for the time being in force, arrest without warrant.”

It does not require that the information must give details of all elements of the offence, or the weapon used or the names of the witnesses or even of the accused, if the particulars given are sufficient for appreciation of the evidence.[12]

In determining whether the omission of such particulars should discredit the story given out in the F.I.R., the circumstances or the manner in which the report was made should be taken into consideration, for instance, whether it indicates a rustic simplicity or a clear and well-planned deceit; whether the informant was a man of status; whether he had any motive to falsely implicate the accused.

In order to constitute F.I.R., the informant’s statement must not be vague or indefinite but must give sufficient materials to the police to start the investigation on it.[13]

But for instance, in case under Prevention of Atrocities against SC and ST Act, 1989 or the Civil Rights Protection Act, 1955, the caste of the complainant or/and the accused is not given, the F.I.R. is liable to be quashed.[14]

If the foregoing conditions are satisfied, it cannot be ignored on the ground that it was not as full as it should have been. It is not necessary that at the time of lodging the F.I.R., the informant must give an elaborate account of what had happened.

In the case of State of U.P. v. Naresh and Ors.,[15] the Supreme Court observed that, “It is settled legal proposition that F.I.R. is not an encyclopedia of the entire case. It may not and need not contain all the details. Naming of the accused therein may be important but not naming of the accused in F.I.R. may not be a ground to doubt the contents thereof.”[16]

Thus, although ideally an F.I.R. should answer twenty-four W’s, e.g. which offence has been committed, where was it committed, who committed it, etc. On this depends the evidentiary value of the F.I.R. But the most important question is which offence has been committed and if it is a prima facie case of a cognizable offence and the informant mentions that a cognizable offence has been committed, then it is a valid F.I.R.

  • First in point of time

The provisions as to information reported are enacted to obtain early information of alleged criminal activity, to record the circumstances before there is time for them to be forgotten or embellished and the report can be put in evidence when the informant is examined if it is desired to do so. However, the mere fact that first information has been lodged early does not rule out embellishment or falsehood in every case.[17]

When more than one F.I.R. has been lodged then the one recorded first in point of time which persuaded the police to start the investigation is to be treated as F.I.R.[18] So, even if different people come to the police station to give information about the same offence, the one which was recorded first would be taken as F.I.R. Other information would be recorded under Section 161 Cr.P.C. for the purpose of investigation but would not get the status of F.I.R.

  • Who can lodge F.I.R.

F.I.R. can come from any quarter. Even an anonymous letter sent reporting a cognizable offence may be treated as F.I.R. It need not be lodged by the eye-witness alone. It is also not necessary that the informant had personal knowledge of the offence. F.I.R. lodged by the accused to the police station containing confession cannot be admissible in evidence except under Section 27 of the Evidence Act.[19]

  • Oral or written

Information may be given orally or in writing. If it is given orally to the officer in charge of the police station, it shall be reduced in writing. In both the cases it has to signed by the person making the report. In case of an oral report, the police officer has to read it to the informant.[20]

Oral information has been considered as good as written because it may be so that the person is illiterate or in a state of shock. The signing of the F.I.R., after the police officer reads it out to the informant in case it is oral, is an acknowledgment that the information is true to the best of the informant’s knowledge. In case, the F.I.R. lodged is false and the police officer gets into investigation as a result of such an F.I.R., this may result in serious invasion of personal liberty of people mentioned in such a F.I.R. In such a situation the responsibility will be on the informant who gave wrong information.

  • Duty of police to record F.I.R.

When a report of a cognizable case is made at a police station, it has to be made to the officer in charge of the police station. The meaning of the term ‘officer in charge of the police station’ is as given in Section 2(o).[21] A report made to a police officer not incharge of police station is not F.I.R. But Section 154 does not create any bar to the making of a report to a senior officer.[22]

Refusal to record F.I.R. on the ground that the place of occurrence falls outside the territorial jurisdiction of the police station is not correct. The proper way is to record the F.I.R. and then forward to the police station having jurisdiction over the case. Refusal to record F.I.R. on the ground that the information received is not credible is not proper. Officer in charge of police station has no option but to record F.I.R. on receipt of information of the commission of a cognizable offence.[23] If he refuses to record such information it amounts to dereliction of duty. If he fails to perform his mandatory duty, the High Court by a writ of mandamus can direct him to register the F.I.R. and start investigating the case.[24]

This object will be defeated if the police officer in charge of the police station refuses to record the information. Therefore Section 154(3) provides a remedy in such a situation. According to this provision, if any person is aggrieved by a refusal on the part of a police officer in charge of a police station to record the information, he may send by post the substance of such information in writing to the Superintendent of Police concerned. If the Superintendent is satisfied that the information discloses the commission of a cognizable offence, he shall either investigate the case himself or direct an investigation to be made by a subordinate police officer in the manner provided by the Code. Section 154(3) further provides that such subordinate police officer investigating the offence shall have all the powers of an officer in charge of police station in relation to that offence.[25]

It has also been clarified by the Supreme Court that since the word ‘information’ in Section 154 is not qualified as ‘reasonable’ it is the duty of the police to register the information under Section 154. In the celebrated judgment of State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal,[26] it was decided that when an information is lodged as to the commission of a cognizable offence before the officer in charge of the police station, he has no other alternative but to register the same in a prescribed form and initiate a case. Even if such information of cognizable offence is lodged against a high police official, it is also the duty of the officer in charge of the concerned police station to reduce the information to writing, read it over to the informant, get the signature of the informant thereon and enter the substance thereof in the diary.[27]

Delay in Lodging F.I.R.:

The object of Section 154 is to obtain early information of an alleged criminal activity, to record the circumstances and the facts before there is time for them to be embellished or forgotten. The first information report should be made promptly. The reason for insisting upon lodging of F.I.R. without delay to obtain the earlier information of the circumstance of commission of offence, the nature of the accused, the parts played by them, the weapons used as also the names of the eye-witnesses. Delay in first information report is an important circumstance and it must be satisfactorily explained, and if the delay is not so explained, the case becomes doubtful.[28]

In the case of Amar Singh v. Balwinder Singh,[29] the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that, “There is no hard and fast rule that any delay in lodging the FIR would automatically render the prosecution case doubtful. It necessarily depends on facts and circumstances of each case.”

Law has not fixed any time for filling F.I.R., as such a delayed F.I.R. is not illegal.[30] On an inordinate, unreasonable and unexplained delay in lodging of the F.I.R., arises a presumption in law that the F.I.R. is based on a false or fabricated story or afterthought. Although, if there is no unreasonable delay, it does not give rise to any simultaneous presumption that the F.I.R. is true. As unreasonable delay adversely affects the evidentiary value of the F.I.R., any delay must be properly explained.

When is delay not fatal:

  1. Delay in cases of sexual assaults

Delay in lodging of F.I.R. in case of sexual assaults cannot be equated with the case involving other offences. There are several matters which weigh in the mind of the prosecutrix and her family members before coming to the police station to lodge a complaint. In a tradition bound society, particularly rural India, it would be quite unsafe to throw out the prosecution case merely on the ground of delay in lodging the F.I.R.[31]

In State of Rajasthan v. Om Prakash,[32] a child was raped. It was held by the court that it was not unnatural for the brother of the victim to wait for the arrival of the elders of the house and to lodge a report after the decision of the family members because reputation of the family and career of the girl was involved.

In Mekala Raja Reddy v. State of A.P.,[33] the victim was forcibly taken to a field on 30.08.1992 while she was returning home in the evening after making bidi as a laborer. Her moth was gagged, therefore, she could not cry for help. She was threatened to be killed if she would not do sexual intercourse with the accused persons. She stood these and then she was forcibly raped by the accused persons one after another. She was threatened not to inform the incident to anybody. She did not reveal the incident to anybody. The incident came to light due to loose talk by the accused in the village. When the police came to know about the incident, they came to the village and questioned her and took her to the police station. There the statement of the victim was recorded at the police station on 26.12.1992, i.e., after four months. It was also held the delay in lodging F.I.R. was properly and satisfactorily explained.

  1. Fatal injuries to the victim

When any victim gets seriously injured and needs immediate medical care, then the first interest of the family members of such a person is to save the life of the victim. In such a case, if there is delay in the lodging of the F.I.R., it would not put any adverse presumption on the prosecution case.

In the case of Bhajan Singh v. State of Haryana,[34] the deceased was grievously injured. The father of the deceased person first shifted his son to the hospital and only after that did he lodge a F.I.R. The delay stood satisfactorily explained.

  1. Cases of mental shock

There is also a possibility that a person may go into mental shock by witnessing the gruesome nature of the crime. In such a situation also there can be a delay in lodging of F.I.R.

In the case of Gurdev Raj v. State of Punjab,[35] there was a quarrel between the appellant, his wife and mother-in-law. The appellant picked up an iron rod lying in the room and administered blows on the head of his mother-in-law. She died at about 6.30 p.m. The two other ladies present in the house had raised hue and cry during the incident but no one came to their rescue. The accused ran away. Both the ladies being frightened left the dead body in the house, locked it and went to inform the husband of the deceased at Amritsar from Taran Taran. He was not at home and came back quite late in the night. In the morning, the wife of the appellant and her father went to the police station at Taran Taran. There was not any unexplained delay on the part of the prosecution in lodging F.I.R.

In the case of Raja Gounder v. State of Tamil Nadu,[36] the accused attacked and brutally killed his brother in front of the deceased’s wife. She was the only eye-witness. Wife was in great distress and had first sent information to her parents in their village some distance away and had thereafter left for police station to lodge F.I.R. The delay of 13 hours was considered to be perfectly compatible with behavior of a widow witnessing such an incident.

Evidentiary Value of F.I.R.

F.I.R. is a vital and important piece of evidence as it contains the first version of the incident. However, it cannot be treated as substantive piece of evidence as it is neither recorded on oath nor tested by cross examination. But when the informant is called as witness in the Court his former statement (F.I.R.) can be used both for corroborating and contradicting his testimony as per Section 157, Section 161 and Section 145 of the Indian Evidence Act. But it cannot be used as evidence against the informant as it is hit by Section 25 of the Evidence Act.

  • F.I.R. could be used for corroborating the informant as per Section 157 and Section 161 of the Evidence Act but it could not be used for corroborating other prosecution witnesses or prosecution case in general.
  • F.I.R. could be used for contradicting the informant as per Section 145 of the Evidence Act but for that firstly, the attention of the informant must be drawn to the relevant portions where the contradiction occurs. Secondly, explanation should be invited and only then defence can rely upon the contradiction.
  • If F.I.R. is made by accused himself then it could be used as per the normal rules of evidence unless it is in the nature of a confession, as then it will be hit by Section 25 of the Evidence Act. The position of such case has been discussed in detail in Aghnoo Nagesia versus State of Bihar AIR 1966 SC 119:-
  1. Such an F.I.R. is not inadmissible in evidence
  2. If the information is non-confessional then it could be admissible under Section 21
  3. If it is confessional in nature then it will become inadmissible except the portion which will come under Section 27 of the Evidence Act.
  4. In this case, Supreme Court for the first time clarified that F.I.R. will be admissible in evidence as a whole not in parts but with a rider that in case the non-confessional part has no connection with the confessional part then the former will be relevant under Section 18 and Section 21.

F.I.R. by an accused cannot be treated as evidence against the co-accused.

  • F.I.R. can be used by the informant to refresh his memory under Section 159 of the Evidence Act.
  • F.I.R. can be used for impeaching the credit of the informant under Section 155 of the Evidence Act.
  • It can also be used for proving the conduct of the informant as per Section 8 of the Evidence Act.
  • F.I.R. can be used to identify the accused, witnesses, place and time of occurrence as per Section 9 of Evidence Act.
  • In certain circumstances, it could also be used as per Section 11 of the Evidence Act.

F.I.R. cannot be used as a primary evidence of the truth of its contents as it cannot be substituted for evidence given on oath. Therefore, F.I.R. itself cannot lead to the conviction of the accused. But in certain circumstances F.I.R. becomes substantive piece of evidence:

  1. Under Section 32 of the Evidence Act
  2. Under Section 6 of the Evidence Act as res-gestae
  3. Under Section 160 of the Evidence Act.

On the basis of the above, it can be concluded that normally F.I.R. is not a substantive piece of evidence but is a public document as per Section 74 of the Evidence Act and its certified copy could be given as per Section 79 of the Evidence Act. However, it becomes a substantive piece of evidence under certain circumstances but S.H.O. cannot give copy of F.I.R. to the accused unless the police report is ready or else he would be liable under Section 27 of the Police Act, 1861.

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[1] Hereinafter referred to as Cr.P.C.

[2] State of Bombay v. Rusy Mistry, AIR 1960 SC 391

[3] Lal, Batuk; The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, 2nd Ed., Central Law Agency, Allahabad, 2010, p. 226

[4] Ratanlal & Dhirajlal; The Code of Criminal Procedure, 19th Ed., LexisNexis Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur Ltd., Gurgaon, 2010, p.474

[5] Basu, D.D.; Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, Vol. 2, 4th Ed., LexisNexis Butterworths Wadhwa Ltd., Nagpur, 2010, p. 803

[6] Ibid., p.804

[7] 2009 (1) RCR (Criminal) 224

[8] Emperor v. Khwaja Nazir Ahmad, AIR (32) 1945 PC 18

[9] State of Andhra Pradesh v. Golconda Linga Swamy & Anr., 2004 (3) RCR (Criminal) 831

[10] Sheikh Hasib alias Tabarak v. The State of Bihar, (1972) 4 SCC 773

[11] Kelkar, R.V., Criminal Procedure, 5th Reprinted Ed., Eastern Book Co., Lucknow, 2011, pp.124-125

[12] Basu, supra note 5, p. 807

[13] Ibid., p.808

[14] Manohar M. Kulkarni v. State of Maharashtra, 2005 Cr.L.J. 2650

[15] AIR 2011 RCR (Criminal) 364

[16] Ibid., para 26

[17] Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, supra note 4, p.474

[18] Basu, supra note 5, p. 808

[19] Aghnoo v. State of Bihar, AIR 1966 SC 119

[20] Lal, Batuk, supra note 3, p.227

[21] Sec. 2(o) Cr.P.C., “Officer in charge of a police station includes, when the officer in charge of the police station is absent from the station-house or unable from illness or other cause to perform his duties, the police officer present at the station-house who is next in rank to such officer and is above the rank of constable or, when, the State Government so directs, any other police officer so present.”

[22] Lal, Batuk, supra note 3, p.227

[23] Ibid., pp. 228-29

[24] Basu, supra note 5, p. 817

[25] Kelkar, supra note 11, p. 125

[26] 1992 Cri.L.J. 527 (SC)

[27] A. Nallasivam v. State, 1995 Cri.L.J. 2754

[28] Lal, Batuk, supra note 3, p.232

[29] AIR 2003 SC 1164

[30] Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, supra note 4, p.477

[31] Lal, Batuk, supra note 3, p.233

[32] AIR 2002 SC 2235

[33] 2002 Cr.L.J. 3407 (AP)

[34] 2011(3) RCR (Criminal) 641

[35] 2008 Cr. L. J. 382 (SC)

[36] 2011(1) RCR (Criminal) 614

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