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The Information related to an offence registered with the police for apposite police action is called The First Information Report (FIR). The information can either be in writing or oral, generally reported by the victims or someone on their behalf and is registered by the police officer on duty in an official public record.
FIRs in India can be registered only for cognizable offences. These are the offences for which the police can arrest without an arrest warrant, distinct from a non-cognizable offence where the police cannot arrest without an arrest warrant. The latter are registered in a community service register (CSR).
This registration of FIR is the commencement of the investigation by the police and probably one of the first steps in the justice delivery system of the country.
Consequently, it becomes pertinent for every citizen of the country to have some basic idea regarding the background of FIRs, their evolution undergoing several judgements which shaped them into the modern form that we know of today, and their need in the present scenario.
Evolution of the concept of FIR and the landmark judgement’s shaping it
First Information Reports are native to the South Asian Countries of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Singapore, etc.
The first ever FIR in India was recorded by the Delhi Police on 18.10.1861 in Urdu, reporting a theft of utensils, a bowl, a hookah etc. It is interesting to see how the nineteenth century report has undergone a series of vicissitudes to reach the present form that we know of today.
The formalities, the procedures, the need regarding the registration of First Information Reports have undergone a sea of changes in these 158 years, making FIRs a vital theme of modern Human Rights Jurisprudence. Following are the Judgements that shaped FIR:
In the case of A. Valar Mukil v. The Superintendent of Police (2016), the petitioner sought a direction to Valliyoor police in Tirunelveli district to amend the FIR, booked on the basis of his complaint so that a much serious penal provision could be invoked against the accused than those under which they had been booked. Here, Justice P.N. Prakash, dismissed the petition stating “Unlike the Code of Civil Procedure where pleadings can be amended, an FIR registered under the Code of Criminal Procedure cannot be amended.”
In the case of Lallan Chaudhary and Ors. v. State of Bihar and Ors., AIR 2006 SC 3376, the Supreme Court held that as mandated under Section 154 of CrPC; if any information regarding a cognizable offence is laid down for the police, the police has no other option than to register a FIR.
It was also held that genuineness or credibility of the information is not to be considered as a condition precedent for registration of a FIR.
This was also discussed in the case of Lalita Kumari v. Govt. of U.P. and Ors., AIR 2014 SC 187, where registration of an FIR becomes mandatory in case a cognizable offence is reported to the police under section 154 of CrPC.
The legislative interpretation of the Section 154 of CrPC was discussed in the case of Bhajan Lal v. State of Punjab, (1971) 1 SCC 34.
In the case of Sukharam v. State of Maharashtra (1969) 3 SCC 730, it was held that a message to the police on telephone that an injured person was lying, amounts to FIR.
Laws governing FIR in India
One of the most central provisions that governs the registration of First Information Reports in India is the Section 154 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 which includes the following:
Sub-Section (1) defines what constitutes a first information and states that it is the duty of the police to accurately record the information in a book which is to be maintained by the officer as prescribed by the State Government.
Sub-Section (2) states that the copy of the above recorded information is to be given free of cost to the informant.
Sub-Section (3) provides for relief to the aggrieved informant in case the police does not register the complaint stating, the information should be sent in writing to the Superintendent of the Police concerned, who if satisfied that the information discloses the commission of a cognizable offence shall either investigate the case himself or direct his subordinate to investigate.
Section 218 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that a public servant framing incorrect records with an intent to protect a person from punishment or any property from forfeiture, shall be liable for three years of imprisonment or fine or both.
There are certain provisions which come to play when an accused himself comes to lodge an FIR in the police station. Section 25 of Indian Evidence act, 1872 states that a confession made by a person to the police shall not be considered as evidence against the person. This section is applicable only when it is in the form of a confession and is relevant under Section 21 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
Thus, FIR is not a substantive evidence. It can be used to verify the informant under Section 157 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872 or it may be used to contradict the witness under section 145 of the same act. Also in the case of Damodar Prasad v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1972 SC 622, it was established that the FIR cannot be used to corroborate or contradict any witness other than the one who had lodged the FIR.
Along with the above mentioned laws, there are a series of intricate provisions from different parts of Indian Laws that govern various aspects of FIRs in India. These highly vary from case to case and also from one state to the other depending on the local laws of the state.
Understanding the need and purpose of FIR
FIR plays a very significant role in the internal peace keeping structure of the country. It basically operates with two main objects:
- To make an official complaint to the police to set the criminal law in motion,
- To obtain an early information regarding an alleged criminal activity.
Keeping the above objectives in mind, it becomes easy for us to understand the need of FIRs in the country.
FIR, being the initial information regarding an offence, remains at the centre of police investigation of the crime. This being closest in the timeline of the incident becomes unlikely that the informant had opportunity for fabrications. Thus, giving police various leads in the investigation to help them find the suspects.
FIRs are also very important in the initial trial cases where both the defence and the prosecution extensively use it to cross examine the informant to check the credibility of the information and strengthen their case.
One of the unspoken but extant nature of FIR is its initial impact on the bias of the people, this being the very first data regarding the criminal offence creates some amount of subconscious or conscious bias in the minds of the authorities as well as the public. This may either lead to a positive or a negative impact on the case.
The First Information Reports (FIR) refers to the information recorded by the police officer on duty which is supplied either by the aggrieved person himself or any other person on his behalf, regarding a cognizable offence.
Section 154 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 is the central provision defining and governing the registration of FIRs in India. It also states the provision under which an aggrieved person can seek help from the concerned superintendent of police.
The present concept of FIR has evolved through numerous changes from the supposed first ever FIR report in the nineteenth century recorded by the Delhi Police. In the contemporary scenario, it plays a significant role of curbing criminal activities in the country by officially initiating the criminal law enforcement mechanism in the country.
The citizens must remain aware about the laws related to FIRs and their working. Hence, being prompt in reporting the criminal offences happening around them rather than ignoring them because of uninformed prejudices.
Author: Utsarga Dash from KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneswar.
Editor: Farsana Sadiq from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.