This article is written by Vandana Shrivastava, a student of B.A. L.L.B.(Hons.) at the Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad. This article is an illustration of filing an FIR or a complaint amidst the lockdown in India.
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Crimes are mostly committed at night because it’s easier than committing it during the day. Criminals try their best to not be seen by the people. With the recent lockdown in India, the commission of crimes has become particularly easier. Police are deployed in all parts of the country to ensure people stay in quarantine.
Outlaws find their way to commit unlawful acts amidst heavy police deployment in all areas. Wrongs which are committed against people are crimes against the State. It is the right of the citizens to file a complaint against the ones who wrong them.
The question arises-how? Stepping out of the house except to grab groceries is unlawful, and would amount to disobedience of quarantine. This article will illuminate the ways through which a person could file a complaint in the midst of the lockdown.
Filing of complaint during the lockdown
A pause on daily activities does not intimate a break from all problems. Several disputes are going to arise. Matters related to civil law are only dealt with in the Court unless there is a criminal aspect to them.
Various methods of filing a complaint
There are four methods of filing a First Information Report (FIR) or a complaint. The procedure of filing an FIR is defined under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). It is a complaint lodged by the victim of an offence or by someone on their behalf.
The word ‘complaint’ is defined under Section 2(d) of CrPC. The distinction between an FIR and a complaint arises after submission of a police report before the Magistrate. If the said offence is non-cognizable, then it becomes a complaint and the policeman who files it becomes the complainant.
There are certain requisites of an FIR which must be kept in mind:
- The information of the event should be given either verbally or in writing. If the information is given verbally, the FIR should be written by the police and should be signed by the complainant.
- The stated information should be recorded in the book especially prescribed for that purpose.
- A copy of the recorded information should be given to the informant.
Filing complaint at a Police Station
The general procedure is to file a complaint at the police station which is nearest to the scene of the offence. This option is currently unavailable due to the lockdown. There are several alternatives which are available to people who want to file a complaint. In the absence of all those options, the complainant should reach out to the nearest spot of police deployment and inform a police officer. The complainant should approach the officer in charge and ask him/her to either register their complaint on the post or to take them to the police station and record their complaint.
Either way, they must make sure that the officer in charge has their complaint in writing. The complaint should be signed by the complainant.
Filing complaint before the Superintendent of the Police
This is the procedure which is generally followed during the times of normalcy. If the officer in charge of the concerned Police Station does not file the complaint, then the complainant could approach the Superintendent of Police. The odds of that happening in the current situation are almost negligible since there is heavy police deployment across the nation.
Filing complaint before a Judicial Magistrate (Not currently possible)
A complaint about a non-cognizable offence is filed before a Magistrate. Not only that, if the aforementioned methods of filing a complaint are unsuccessful, but the complainant could also approach a Judicial Magistrate through the powers bestowed under Section 156(3) of the CrPC.
Courts are currently non-functional in the entire country. Instead, contacting the police right now is easier than it ever was.
Filing an online complaint
Complainants who have access to the internet could file online complaints if their State or city provides such a service. In order to do so, the complainant must access the website and follow the steps as shown on the website. To help out the ones who might face problems, here is a brief step-by-step explanation of filing a complaint on the internet. The explanation could have been more elaborative, but every State has a different website. The websites are designed differently, making it difficult to find a primary way of doing it.
Given below is a list of all the States and cities which support the online filing of complaints:
- Tamil Nadu;
- Himachal Pradesh;
- New Delhi;
- Madhya Pradesh;
Currently, filing an online complaint is the safest and most convenient method of reporting an offence. Using online portals for filing complaints or an FIR is easy. The options on the websites are easy to understand as well. A copy of the FIR would be sent to the email address provided by the complainant. Therefore, the complainant should make sure to give a working email address and/or their Whatsapp contact when filing a complaint.
Filing complaint on the phone
More than half of the Indian population has access to telephones and mobile phones. Even if someone does not have access to either of them, someone in their vicinity might have. If someone has to report a matter during the lockdown, they could dial 100 and call the police. It is legal to file a complaint on a telephonic conversation.
This is the closest and simplest way of filing a complaint amongst all the ways which are currently available to people.
When will the action be taken?
With the Courts being non-functional till the lockdown is lifted, even though complaints can be filed right now, a case, if any, will have to wait to be taken up until the resumption of the Court. In the case of cognizable offences, the officer in charge could conduct an investigation now since it does not require a warrant to conduct an investigation.
When the complaint made by the complainant is of a cognizable offence, Section 156(1) of the CrPC states that the officer in charge of the police station is empowered to conduct an investigation which falls within the jurisdiction of the Court of the local area. Cognizable offences are more grave than non-cognizable offences. This is why they do not require the officer to issue a warrant from the Magistrate.
Generally, these offences pose a punishment of more than 3 years. Attending or organising an unlawful assembly, waging war, committing a murder, performing a negligent act which endangers the lives of others or infects someone else with a deadly disease are few examples of cognizable offences. Some of these offences are prevalent in the country right now.
Section 155 of the CrPC states that the officer in charge of the police station should refer the information so received to the Magistrate. Any police officer cannot conduct an investigation of a non-cognizable offence unless it is ordered by the Magistrate. In case there are more than two offences irrespective of their nature, the officer in charge will have the same powers as bestowed in case of cognizable offences. Contrary to cognizable offences, these offences have a punishment period of fewer than three years. Obstructing the work of a public servant, deceiving a Court of law, selling adulterated drugs, causing hurt to someone or cheating someone are few cognizable offences.
In both of the aforementioned situations, the police officer in charge will have to conduct an investigation and submit a report before the Magistrate. The Magistrate will take cognizance of the matter under Section 190 of the CrPC. The Magistrate is empowered to take cognizance even on receiving information that an offence has been committed. Thereafter, the trial will begin. A flowchart created by the MP Police for a clear understanding of the entire FIR procedure can be accessed here.
It shall be noted that if the complaint was made verbally, then the Magistrate, upon taking cognizance of the matter, can conduct an examination of the complainant and witness(es) under Section 200 of the CrPC. The examination is conducted under an oath and is reduced to writing. The written document must be signed by the complainant and witness(s) respectively.
Is an online FIR effective?
Filing an online FIR or complaint is more recommendable than filing it in person or via a phone call. The foremost reason for the same is the safety of the people. Going out could expose them to COVID-19. Moreover, if there is an option of getting the work done without going out, then one must do it.
When an online complaint is filed, its copy is generated and then mailed to the email address provided by the complainant. The e-copy stays safe in the email and could be accessed easily whenever required. The online portal has a section to check the current status of the complaint. After the cognizance is taken, and the offence is being tried in the Court of law, even then the status of the cases keeps on updating.
For foregoing reasons, not only for now but also generally, it is more convenient to file an online complaint of an offence. It is inexpensive. There are instances where police officers refuse to file a complaint. To avoid such practices, it is better to file an online complaint because it always stays on the record. It could not be deleted by the police. The police officers who do not perform their duty diligently would be forced to work and the complainant would get a remedy more quickly. When there is a risk of endangerment of life in going out, online mode of complaint comes to the rescue.
Can they go to a Police Station?
It is not suggestive to visit a police station due to various risk factors which are associated with going out. If the methods of filing a complaint that is discussed above are unavailable, then the complainant could go to a police station. However, the same shall be avoided if there is a police deployment nearby or on the way.
In the absence of a deployment post, the complainant could visit the police station. The complainant should give a reasonable explanation to the officer in charge behind their visit to the police station in the midst of the lockdown.
Thereafter, the complainant should get the complaint registered. On a very serious note, this act should be the last resort of the complainant, when there is absolutely no option left. In the event of doing so, the complainant should maintain a considerable distance with everyone around.
Many eminent criminologists view crime as a necessary part of society. Opposing of crime brings people together and keeps them united against a cause. That said, it is essential to keep a balance. If the rate of criminal offences rises, it would become a novel issue altogether. There is already an abundance of wanted criminals.
It is understandable that when someone has to file a complaint at a time when the entire country is under lockdown, it must be something bad. But one must remember that their lives are the most important of all. As far as possible, it is recommended that a complaint should be filed online or on a telephonic conversation.
The lockdown is for the benefit and safeguard of the people themselves. Their remedies for any wrong which has been committed against them or another will not go unchecked or unpunished. The State will come to the aid of its countrymen.
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