This article is written by Parth Verma, a student of the School of Law, Christ University, Bengaluru. This article seeks to explain the concept of non-cognizable offences and its various examples. In addition, the article also aims to determine the impact of such offences on society.

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.

Introduction

There are a large number of offences that we witness in our day-to-day lives for which the wrongdoer might be punished. The nature of different crimes might vary. While some offences might be serious, others won’t require a very high magnitude of punishment. Even the procedure to be followed for different offences varies. In the case of less serious offences, i.e., non-cognizable offences, which generally have an impact only on an individual or a few individuals, police require an authorised arrest warrant in order to arrest the wrongdoer. However, when an offence is of a very serious nature and poses a threat to the entire society in general i.e., a cognizable offence, the police need not issue an arrest warrant. The police can directly arrest the person for the purpose of taking quick action. This is one way of classifying various criminal offences that might be committed in a country. 

With a rapid increase in the crime rate in India, it has become very important for the general public to be aware of the type of crime committed against them and the rights available to them in that particular situation in order to obtain justice. This article aims to delve deeper into various aspects and examples of non-cognizable offences to fulfil this purpose.

What are non-cognizable offences

A non-cognizable offence refers to a criminal offence committed by an individual which is generally less serious in nature. In other words, such offences only have an adverse impact on the affected person or set of people and not on the entire society in general. There are various examples of non-cognizable offences, the explanation and punishment for which have been stated in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Some of its examples are cheating, defamation, forgery, or criminal assault. 

For arresting a person for such an offence, the police is required to have a valid arrest warrant without which they would not have the required authority to arrest. In such cases, they also won’t have the authority to investigate any crime without the due consent of the court. Only when a complaint is filed before a judge in a court of appropriate jurisdiction, an investigation can be initiated as per their orders. An arrest warrant needs to be issued only when the trial court finds the person guilty of any non-cognizable offence. Such offences are mostly bailable in nature i.e., the person convicted has the right to obtain bail in the event he/she has been arrested. The person concerned must be released once a bail application has been filed before the police. Procedural aspects relating to non-cognizable offences have been laid down in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Legal provisions relating to non-cognizable offences

There are various provisions relating to the non-cognizable offences under the IPC and the Code of Criminal Procedure that go as follows:

  1.  Section 2(l) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 defines non-cognizable offences. It refers to all those offences for which the police have absolutely no authority to arrest any person without a valid arrest warrant.
  2. Section 155 states that the police don’t have any legal authority to record an FIR (First Information Report) regarding any non-cognizable offence, unless they have obtained permission from the magistrate for it.
  3. Under Section 158 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 a police report is to be duly submitted to the concerned magistrate to inform him/her that a police investigation is taking place on a given matter. This report is to be submitted for both cognizable and non-cognizable offences in order to help the magistrate keep track of the inquiry that is taking place. 
  4. As per Section 159 of the Code, the magistrate can decide whether he/she wants the police to proceed with an investigation or not. Further, they can also issue directives for carrying out the investigation. 
  5. All non-cognizable offences as well as their punishments have been defined in the IPC, 1860. These offences are provided in the First Schedule of this code.

These are some of the provisions relating to the concept of non-cognizable offences, including both their substantive and procedural aspects under different codes.

Features of non-cognizable offences

Less serious offence

An offence committed by a person should be of a less serious nature. At the same time, it shouldn’t lead to higher penalties. Offences such as defamation, cheating, or nuisance are included under its purview and they generally impact only a particular individual. As a result, such offences do not pose a major threat to society. 

Bailable

Non-cognizable offences are generally bailable in nature. It means that a person can be granted bail by the police upon filing a bail application. The primary reason behind granting bail is that the person hasn’t committed a huge offence and hence the right to get bail must be provided to them to ensure fair justice.

Presence of an arrest warrant

In order to arrest any person committing a non-cognizable offence, the police are required to have a valid arrest warrant. This arrest warrant is required to be issued by a judicial magistrate or by a court of appropriate jurisdiction. The police can not start an investigation without approval from the court.

No recording of first information report (FIR)

The police, in the case of a non-cognizable offence, are not allowed to receive or record the First Information Report. They are only permitted to do so when they have obtained the required permission from a judicial magistrate. However, this could sometimes go against the aggrieved person. This is so because taking appropriate action against the wrongdoer might become a very lengthy process due to the requirement of prior permission from the court for all purposes.

Police investigation

Once any particular issue has been brought before the judicial magistrate, they might direct the police to conduct an investigation after considering the matter of the case. After carrying out the complete investigation, they would be required to prepare several reports to be submitted before the appropriate court or judicial magistrate. The reports that are required to be submitted by the police are a preliminary report and a final report.

Preparation of charge sheet

Charge sheet refers to a document consisting of various charges which are alleged against the person under trial. This charge sheet is prepared after the reports from the investigation have been submitted by the police. The trial of the person then takes place to verify various charges against him/her in the charge sheet. 

Trial of accused

In a trial, if a person has been convicted by the court of an offence that is non-cognizable in nature, an arrest warrant could be issued. However, this could only be done once the decision has been passed by the trial court. 

Examples of non-cognizable offences

There are various non-cognizable offences stated under the IPC, 1860. Some of these are as follows:

Defamation

The offence of defamation has been defined under Section 499 of the IPC, 1860. It refers to any statement, made in an oral or written form that aims to injure the reputation of a person among rational members of society. Such a statement must refer directly to the person concerned and should lower their moral and intellectual character in any given manner. Defamation can also be of various types, such as libel (written defamation), slander (oral defamation), and innuendo (indirect defamation).

For example, a person ‘A’ writes in a magazine that a particular politician ‘B’ was involved in bribery. However, his claims were proved to be false after investigation. In this situation, ‘A’ can be held liable for defaming ‘B’ among prudent members of society. This is an example of libel.

Cheating

According to Section 420 of the IPC, any person who is involved in cheating or dishonestly inducing a person to give, destroy, or alter any property can be held liable for cheating. There is a need to prove the intention of a person to cheat for it to be considered an offence. However, this is strictly related to property matters and doesn’t apply to any other aspects that could be subjected to cheating.

Public nuisance

Under Section 268 of the IPC, public nuisance has been defined as any act or omission that causes an injury or annoyance to any occupier of a property. Under Section 290, its punishment has been defined and it is declared to be a non-cognizable offence. Such an act is likely to impact society, in general, thereby violating the fundamental rights (certain basic rights) of citizens. However, any act causing a public nuisance should not be excused on the ground that it was for the convenience or advantage of an individual.

For example, a person ‘A’ established a wheat grinding industry in a residential area, and it releases a huge amount of dust into the air. This would make the air harmful for breathing, thereby having an adverse impact on the people in the nearby areas. This would constitute public nuisance since it is causing discomfort to the entire neighbourhood at large.

Criminal assault

As per Section 351 of the IPC, assault refers to any act or gesture which creates a threat or an apprehension in the mind of the person that some criminal force might be inflicted upon him/her. The words used should be provocative in nature. Mere use of normal words without any ill intention isn’t going to constitute an assault. It is a non-cognizable offence as has been stated under this section and the harm or threat being imposed through the gesture must be reasonably foreseen and immediate.

Procedure to be followed for a non-cognizable offence

The entire procedure for a non-cognizable offence is quite different from the procedure to be followed in the case of a cognizable offence. There are several steps involved, which are as follows.

  1. The police as stated earlier, don’t have the power to record a First Information Report. They can only take action when they are ordered by the magistrate to do the same. 
  2. A complaint is to be directly filed with a judicial magistrate. When the police receives an order from the magistrate, they are required to investigate the matter and obtain more information.
  3. While carrying out the investigation, the police are required to prepare several reports. These reports are further submitted to the magistrate.
  4. The officer in charge of the police station is required to submit a preliminary report to the judicial magistrate as per Section 157 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
  5. Under Section 168 of this Code, the junior officer is required to submit a report to the officer in charge of the police station for the purpose of investigation.
  6. At the end of the investigation, a final report is required to be sent to the concerned magistrate as per Section 173 of the Code.
  7. On the basis of the investigation reports and trial conducted at later stages, a magistrate can order the police to issue an arrest warrant.
  8. It is only when a person has been convicted in a trial that an arrest warrant can be issued by the police and they can arrest the convict. However, the convict has the right to apply for bail and could also appeal against the decision of the trial court. 

Hence, it can be concluded that a convict is certainly not deprived of his/her basic right to a fair trial for committing such offences. This is the entire procedure that is required to be followed in the case of a non-cognizable offence.

Relevant case laws 

Public Prosecutor v. Ratnavelu Chetty (1926)

Facts of the case

This case laid down one of the most important essentials with respect to non-cognizable offences. An appeal was made by the public prosecutor in this case against the order of acquittal passed by the sessions court for an alleged offence of making false charges against the respondent. 

Issues before the Court

The question before the court, in this case, was whether the charge sheet in a non-cognizable offence could act as a report or not.

Judgement of the Court

The Court in this case laid down that when any information is received by the police in respect of a non-cognizable offence, they are required to inform the magistrate. Only a magistrate has the power to initiate the proceedings. On the other hand, when a person files a complaint before any magistrate, certain formalities are required to be completed, such as a sworn statement. A magistrate also has the power to dismiss a complaint under Section 203 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. 

Om Prakash and Anr v. Union of India (2011)

Facts

In this case, a petition had been filed when the Central Excise Act was introduced in 1944, which provided for certain offences to be non-cognizable. One of the learned counsel filed a petition that the provisions were arbitrary and needless at times. Further, there was ambiguity regarding whether the offences should be bailable or non-bailable.

Issues before the Court

The issue before the Court was whether the offences under the Act are cognizable or non-cognizable and whether they should be bailable in nature.

Judgement

In this given case, the Court interpreted the powers of the police in case of non-cognizable offences. They stated that a police officer, or in the instant case, the excise officer, can’t arrest any individual without a valid arrest warrant. The same provision is stated in Section 41 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 which gives the various conditions under which the police can arrest a person with or without a warrant. 

Dr. Kamal Kishore Kalra v. State of NCT of Delhi (2008)

Facts of the case

In this case, it was contended by the prosecution that they had received a piece of information stating that a person had stolen government medicines with the intention of selling them. It was recognized to be a non-cognizable offence under the Delhi Police Act, 1978. However, the inquiry was conducted by the police without permission from the magistrate, which is always required in the case of a non-cognizable offence. 

Issue before the court

The court was faced with the question of whether the investigation was null and void if it was conducted by police without the magistrate’s permission.

Judgement of the Court

The Court, in this particular case, declared that if the police were initially carrying out an investigation under the procedure of a cognizable offence but later on, it transpires to be a non-cognizable offence, the investigation report of the police can be regarded as a complaint made by the police officer.

Difference between cognizable and non-cognizable offences

There are certain differences between cognizable and non-cognizable offences in both substantive and procedural aspects. Some of these differences are as follows.

Cognizable offencesNon-cognizable offences
Cognizable offences refer to all those offences for which police can arrest a person without an arrest warrant, i.e., police can take the cognizance of the offence into their own hands. These have been defined under Section 2(c) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.Non-cognizable offences refer to all those offences for which police can arrest a person only if they have a valid arrest warrant. They can’t take the cognizance of the case into their own hands. Such offences have been defined under Section 2(l) of the Code.
A first information report can be recorded by the police in case such an offence is alleged to be committed.A first information report is not allowed to be recorded by the police in case of a non-cognizable offence.
These are more serious in nature and affect a larger section of society.These offences are comparatively less serious in nature and no physical injury is generally inflicted upon the aggrieved person. 
All cognizable offences are either bailable or non-bailable. However, they are mostly non-bailable because the offences are very heinous or harmful in nature.Non-cognizable offences are mostly bailable in nature because such offences are not very grave or heinous.
Police can conduct an investigation without approval from the court in the case of a cognizable offence.An investigation can’t be initiated by police in a non-cognizable offence on their own. It is only after the evaluation of facts by the magistrate that they could permit the police to conduct an investigation.
Examples of cognizable offences are murder, rape, and kidnapping.Examples of non-cognizable offences are cheating, public nuisance, etc.

Punishment for non-cognizable offences

Non-cognizable offences, as stated previously, are less serious or grave in nature. Hence, the amount of punishment for such offences is also less severe. Further, these offences are also bailable through filing an application by the arrested or any related person. The punishments for non-cognizable offences are stated in the First Schedule of the IPC, 1860 some of which are as follows.

  1. As stated in Section 417 of the IPC, cheating is a punishable offence that might lead to imprisonment for a period extending to a maximum of one year or a fine, or both.
  2. Under Section 352 of the IPC, punishment for assault has been given as imprisonment which might extend to three months, a fine of three hundred rupees, or both.
  3. Under Section 500 of the IPC, punishment for defamation is imprisonment that may extend to a period of two years, a fine, or both.
  4. According to Section 290 of the IPC, punishment for public nuisance is the payment of a certain amount of fine that may extend to two hundred rupees.
  5. Under Section 465 of the IPC, forgery is also a punishable offence having an imprisonment period that might extend up to two years, fine, or both.

These are some of the punishments for non-cognizable offences. No such offence generally has an imprisonment period exceeding two years.

Issues in non-cognizable offences

  1. The procedure to be followed in the case of non-cognizable offences is very cumbersome and consists of a large number of formalities. This might lead to delays in decision-making and could go against the interests of the affected person.
  2. The excessive responsibilities imposed on all magistrates could increase their burden, which would eventually impact the speed of case disposal. The process would be extremely slow because of the numerous duties being assigned to the magistrates.
  3. The procedure is very different from that which is generally followed for cognizable offences. As a result, this might create ambiguities for both the aggrieved party and the police at times as they are dealing with a large number of cases simultaneously.
  4. There might be several delays in the preparation of investigation reports by the police. This might further lead to delays in the disposal of cases. In order to provide fair justice to the aggrieved person who is not at fault in this situation, the courts would need to wait and eventually admit the reports in order to proceed with the case.

These are some of the major issues that arise in the procedure of non-cognizable offences, and certain actions are required to be taken to fill these gaps. This would reduce unnecessary delays and provide timely justice for all.

Analysis and recommendations

Non-cognizable offences have a totally different procedure as compared to cognizable offences. This could lead to several issues with respect to the powers of the police and the process to be followed for non-cognizable offences, as stated above. Hence, there is a need to address these issues to ensure fair justice for both the aggrieved party and the accused.

  • There is a need to increase the powers of the police in cases of non-cognizable offences. To take quick action, the police must be provided with investigative powers in all circumstances, in order to reduce any delays arising out of formal permission from a magistrate. 
  • With these increased powers, the police should also be made more accountable for the submission of investigation reports on time in all circumstances. The powers of a judicial magistrate should be distributed among other officers as well. This would firstly reduce the possibility of any form of personal bias and, secondly, it would also reduce the burden of the magistrate, thereby helping him/her to focus on their work and improve their overall efficiency.
  • There is also a need to ensure fair and speedy trials by the courts for quick acquittal or arrest of the alleged wrongdoer. This would further help in obtaining a quick payment of compensation to the aggrieved person. 
  • The fines to be paid for such offences under the IPC, 1860 are still stuck in the olden times. There is a need to update the amount to be paid as compensation or fine, along with the imprisonment period, on a case-to-case basis. 
  • Lastly, there is also a need to create sufficient awareness among people regarding the route they would need to take in case they are a victim of a non-cognizable offence. This would also keep them informed about their rights at all times.

Conclusion

Non-cognizable offences are a category of offences stated in the first schedule of the IPC, 1860. These offences are less severe in nature and, as a result, are also bailable. These offences have a lesser sentence, but the issues arise in their procedural aspects and the distribution of powers. To curb these issues, certain measures could be proactively pursued. If all these measures are taken, non-cognizable offences could also be smoothly dealt with. The aggrieved party would not need to suffer, and discretionary powers would be brought under control. Therefore, certain measures are still required to be taken to improve the process of the judicial system and punishment in the country with respect to non-cognizable offences.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is the punishment for non-cognizable offences?

The punishments for non-cognizable offences are generally lesser in comparison to cognizable offences with an imprisonment period generally extending to 3 years.

What is the role of police in a non-cognizable offence?

Under Section 155 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, a complaint can be made to the police. They are then required to provide all the necessary information to an officer empowered by the State Government to maintain records and also refer the informant to the magistrate.

What is the alternative to FIR in a non-cognizable offence?

In case of a non-cognizable offence, a Community Service Register is maintained by the police to keep a record of all the non-cognizable offences. Hence, it is an alternative to FIR that is recorded for all cognizable offences.

References


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