How Should Magistrates Deal With Protest Complaints? SC Explains [Read Judgment]

How Should Magistrates Deal With Protest Complaints? SC Explains [Read Judgment]

"Magistrate could not be compelled to take cognizance by treating the protest petition as a complaint."

The Supreme Court in Vishnu Kumar Tiwari vs. State Of Uttar Pradesh explained the procedure to be adopted by the Magistrates in dealing with protest complaints.

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice KM Joseph has observed that a protest petition can be treated as a complaint and a magistrate can deal with the same as required under Section 200 read with Section 202 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, if it fulfills the requirements of a complaint.

The bench comprising observed that when the Magistrate does not treat the protest petition as a complaint, the remedy of the complainant would be to file a fresh complaint and invite the Magistrate to follow the procedure under Section 200 of the Code or Section 200 read with Section 202 of the Code.

The Supreme Court has referred to many Judgments on the subject. We are using some of the extracts from the quotes to enable the reader to understand the issue.

There is no provision in the Code to file a protest petition by the informant who lodged the first information report. But this has been the practice.

Who can file Protest Complaint?

As indicated in Bhagwant Singh case [(1985) 2 SCC 537 : 1985 SCC (Cri) 267 : AIR 1985 SC 1285] the right is conferred on the informant and none else.

Options Before a Magistrate on receipt of Final Report

When a report forwarded by the police to the Magistrate under Section 173(2)(i) is placed before him several situations arise. The report may conclude that an offence appears to have been committed by a particular person or persons and in such a case, the Magistrate may either (1) accept the report and take cognizance of the offence and issue process, or (2) may disagree with the report and drop the proceeding, or (3) may direct further investigation under Section 156(3) and require the police to make a further report. The report may on the other hand state that according to the police, no offence appears to have been committed. When such a report is placed before the Magistrate he has again option of adopting one of the three courses open i.e. (1) he may accept the report and drop the proceeding; or (2) he may disagree with the report and take the view that there is sufficient ground for further proceeding, take cognizance of the offence and issue process; or (3) he may direct further investigation to be made by the police under Section 156(3). The position is, therefore, now well settled that upon receipt of a police report under Section 173(2) a Magistrate is entitled to take cognizance of an offence under Section 190(1)(b) of the Code even if the police report is to the effect that no case is made out against the accused. The Magistrate can take into account the statements of the witnesses examined by the police during the investigation and take cognizance of the offence complained of and order the issue of process to the accused. Section 190(1)(b) does not lay down that a Magistrate can take cognizance of an offence only if the investigating officer gives an opinion that the investigation has made out a case against the accused. The Magistrate can ignore the conclusion arrived at by the investigating officer and independently apply his mind to the facts emerging from the investigation and take cognizance of the case, if he thinks fit, exercise his powers under Section 190(1)(b) and direct the issue of process to the accused. The Magistrate is not bound in such a situation to follow the procedure laid down in Sections 200 and 202 of the Code for taking cognizance of a case under Section 190(1)(a) though it is open to him to act under Section 200 or Section 202 also. [See India Carat (P) Ltd. v. State of Karnataka [(1989) 2 SCC 132 : 1989 SCC (Cri) 306 : AIR 1989 SC 885] .] The informant is not prejudicially affected when the Magistrate decides to take cognizance and to proceed with the case.

But where the Magistrate decides that sufficient ground does not subsist for proceeding further and drops the proceeding or takes the view that there is material for proceeding against some and there are insufficient grounds in respect of others, the informant would certainly be prejudiced as the first information report lodged becomes wholly or partially ineffective. Therefore, this Court indicated in Bhagwant Singh case [(1985) 2 SCC 537 : 1985 SCC (Cri) 267 : AIR 1985 SC 1285] that where the Magistrate decides not to take cognizance and to drop the proceeding or takes a view that there is no sufficient ground for proceeding against some of the persons mentioned in the first information report, notice to the informant and grant of opportunity of being heard in the matter becomes mandatory.
There cannot be any doubt or dispute that only because the Magistrate has accepted a final report, the same by itself would not stand in his way to take cognizance of the offence on a protest/complaint petition

In this case [Vishnu Kumar Tiwari vs. State Of Uttar Pradesh], a First Information Report alleging offences under Sections 201, 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was registered on the basis of a complaint filed by father of a deceased woman against her husband and in-laws. After investigation, the Investigating officer filed a final report under Section 178 CrPC. The de facto complainant filed a protest petition before the Chief Judicial Magistrate who passed an order concluding that the daughter of the complainant died due to her illness. In a writ petition filed challenging this order, the Allahabad High Court quashed this order of the CJM. The CJM was also directed to look into the matter afresh for taking cognizance against the accused persons in the case.

While considering the appeal, the Apex Court bench observed that, if the Magistrate was convinced on the basis of the consideration of the final report, the statements under Section 161 of the Code that no prima facie case is made out, he could not be compelled to take cognizance by treating the protest petition as a complaint. The bench said:

"The fact that he may have jurisdiction in a case to treat the protest petition as a complaint, is a different matter. Undoubtedly, if he treats the protest petition as a complaint, he would have to follow the procedure prescribed under Section 200 and 202 of the Code if the latter Section also commends itself to the Magistrate. In other words, necessarily, the complainant and his witnesses would have to be examined. No doubt, depending upon the material which is made available to a Magistrate by the complainant in the protest petition, it may be capable of being relied on in a particular case having regard to its inherent nature and impact on the conclusions in the final report. That is, if the material is such that it persuades the court to disagree with the conclusions arrived at by the Investigating Officer, cognizance could be taken under Section 190(1)(b) of the Code for which there is no necessity to examine the witnesses under Section 200 of the Code. But as the Magistrate could not be compelled to treat the protest petition as a complaint, the remedy of the complainant would be to file a fresh complaint and invite the Magistrate to follow the procedure under Section 200 of the Code or Section 200 read with Section 202 of the Code."

Setting aside the order of the High Court, the bench said:

"In this case, in fact, there is no list of witnesses as such in the protest petition. The prayer in the protest petition is to set aside the final report and to allow the application against the final report. While we are not suggesting that the form must entirely be decisive of the question whether it amounts to a complaint or liable to be treated as a complaint, we would think that essentially, the protest petition in this case, is summing up of the objections the second respondent against the final report."

The duty of the Magistrate is not one limited to readily accepting the final report

The court, in this judgment, has also lucidly explained the procedure to be followed by a magistrate after he receives a refer report.

This is a case where following the First Information Report, the Investigating Officer conducted an investigation. Statements were taken from the complainant, his wife and his son. This is apart from the statements which were taken from the Doctors who treated the daughter of the second respondent/complainant. The Investigation Officer concluded that there is no material which would warrant the accused being sent for trial. When such a report is filed before the court, it is beyond the shade of doubt that the Magistrate may still choose to reject the final report and proceed to take cognizance of the offences, which in his view, are seen committed. He may, on the other hand, after pondering over the materials, which would include the statements of witnesses collected by the Investigating Officer, decide to accept the final report. He may entertain the view that it is a case where further investigation by the Officer is warranted before a decision is taken as to whether cognizance is to be taken or not.
It is undoubtedly true that before a Magistrate proceeds to accept a final report under Section 173 and exonerate the accused, it is incumbent upon the Magistrate to apply his mind to the contents of the protest petition and arrive at a conclusion thereafter. While the Investigating Officer may rest content by producing the final report, which, according to him, is the culmination of his efforts, the duty of the Magistrate is not one limited to readily accepting the final report. It is incumbent upon him to go through the materials, and after hearing the complainant and considering the contents of the protest petition, finally decide the future course of action to be, whether to continue with the matter or to bring the curtains down.

In the facts of this case, having regard to the nature of the allegations contained in the protest petition and the annexures which essentially consisted of affidavits, if the Magistrate was convinced on the basis of the consideration of the final report, the statements under Section 161 of the Code that no prima facie case is made out, certainly the Magistrate could not be compelled to take cognizance by treating the protest petition as a complaint. The fact that he may have jurisdiction in a case to treat the protest petition as a complaint, is a different matter.

Undoubtedly, if he treats the protest petition as a complaint, he would have to follow the procedure prescribed under Section 200 and 202 of the Code if the latter Section also commends itself to the Magistrate. In other words, necessarily, the complainant and his witnesses would have to be examined. No doubt, depending upon the material which is made available to a Magistrate by the complainant in the protest petition, it may be capable of being relied on in a particular case having regard to its inherent nature and impact on the conclusions in the final report. That is, if the material is such that it persuades the court to disagree with the conclusions arrived at by the Investigating Officer, cognizance could be taken under Section 190(1)(b) of the Code for which there is no necessity to examine the witnesses under Section 200 of the Code. But as the 36 Magistrate could not be compelled to treat the protest petition as a complaint, the remedy of the complainant would be to file a fresh complaint and invite the Magistrate to follow the procedure under Section 200 of the Code or Section 200 read with Section 202 of the Code

If a protest petition fulfills the requirements of a complaint, the Magistrate may treat the protest petition as a complaint and deal with the same as required under Section 200 read with Section 202 of the Code. In this case, in fact, there is no list of witnesses as such in the protest petition. The prayer in the protest petition is to set aside the final report and to allow the application against the final report. While we are not suggesting that the form must entirely be decisive of the question whether it amounts to a complaint or liable to be treated as a complaint, we would think that essentially, the protest petition in this case, is summing up of the objections the second respondent against the final report.


Click here to Download Judgment

Read Judgment