29 Sep 2023 1:48 PM GMT
The Law Commission of India has recommended allowing the registration of electronic first information reports (e-FIR) for all cognizable offences where the accused is not known, and the registration of such reports for all cognizable offences with a maximum punishment of three years where the identity of the accused is known. Accordingly, the commission has recommended suitable amendments...
The Law Commission of India has recommended allowing the registration of electronic first information reports (e-FIR) for all cognizable offences where the accused is not known, and the registration of such reports for all cognizable offences with a maximum punishment of three years where the identity of the accused is known. Accordingly, the commission has recommended suitable amendments not only to the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 but also to the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, the Information Technology Act, 2000, the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and other legislation to support e-FIR registration.
The commission – headed by retired Karnataka High Court judge Ritu Raj Awasthi – has stated in its 282th report on ‘Amendment in Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for Enabling Online Registration of FIR’ –
“In tune with India's progressive Digital India mission and National e-Governance Plan, the Commission recommends that in cases where the accused is not known, registration of e-FIR should be allowed for all cognizable offences as per Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The Commission further recommends that where the accused is known, as a preliminary step, registration of e-FIRs may be allowed for all cognizable offences wherein the punishment prescribed under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and other laws for the time being in force, is up to three years. Such a limited rollout of the e-FIR scheme in the initial phase would ensure that for the time being, there is no disruption relating to the procedure adopted for reporting and investigation of serious offences.”
Highlighting the principle of the presumption of innocence which occupies a central position in criminal law, and pointing out the Arnesh Kumar guidelines on reasonable investigations before arrests in cases punishable with imprisonment up to seven years, the commission has explained that limiting the applicability of e-FIR registration to less severe offenses, with punishments up to three years, could safeguard against wrongful arrests and police abuse.
E-FIR not in all cases
The report also acknowledges that the e-FIR scheme will not apply to all offences due to practical reasons, especially matrimonial disputes, commercial offenses, medical negligence cases, corruption cases, and those with abnormal delays in reporting, in which preliminary inquiries have been mandated by the Supreme Court. At the same time, the commission has also recommended that states have the power to expand the list of offences eligible for e-FIR registration, should the system prove effective.
It referred to Supreme Court’s landmark verdict in Lalita Kumari v. State of Uttar Pradesh, in which the top court held that preliminary enquiry should be conducted in cases pertaining to matrimonial disputes, commercial offences, medical negligence and corruption, among others.
This report was the outcome of a comprehensive consultation process that began in July 2018 when the Ministry of Home Affairs wrote to the commission to consider the question of amending Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code to enable online registration of FIRs, spurred on by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address at the BSF Academy, Tekanpur. In response to the ministry’s request, the previous law commission wrote to the chief justices of all high courts, urging them to seek opinions from judicial officers in their jurisdiction regarding online FIR registration. The response, the report reveals, was overwhelmingly in favour of amending Section 154 to accommodate e-FIRs. The commission also considered inputs from a session with police officers from different states held in August 2018.
The 22nd and current law commission conducted further consultations in 2023 with several stakeholders, including the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), besides seeking input from various experts, including the Vice-Chancellor of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, NK Chakrabarti, renowned criminal lawyer Sidharth Luthra, and other distinguished individuals from law enforcement and administrative backgrounds.
Based on these consultations with subject-matter experts and a thorough analysis of the legal framework governing the registration of FIRs, including the recommendations of other commissions and committees, the Law Commission of India has concluded the allowing all citizens ‘unhindered and equal access’ to the criminal justice system which is set into motion with the registration of an FIR, was a necessary component of the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution –
“Implementation of Section 154 in its undiluted form is not only possible but also desirable. The process of registration of FIR may be made simple by allowing multiple modes of providing information. Most of the states in India have provided online portals to citizens enabling them to lodge complaints. The complaints are all enquired into and final reports are prepared. The same or similar system can be used to register e-FIR. The Government of India has already provided ‘Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems’ (CCTNS) facilities to all the states. Adequate hardware and software have already been provided in most locations. The use of these facilities to promote free registration of e-FIR will give legitimacy to the criminal justice process and increase the faith of the common man in law. Unless the citizens are allowed unhindered and equal access to the criminal justice system, for which registration of FIR is the first step, there can be no equality before law, or equal protection of law, as envisioned in Article 14 of the Constitution of India.”
The commission has insisted that the introduction of online FIR filing would be a ‘boon’, especially in areas where visiting a police station might be challenging due to security or infrastructural issues. This initiative would also address the reluctance of police officers to file FIRs for minor offences and tackle the challenges arising from a low police-to-public ratio. The report states –
“By automating processes and functions at the level of police stations and improving delivery of citizen-centric services through effective use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the ultimate goal is to make the Police functioning citizen-friendly, transparent, accountable, effective and efficient.”
With regard to non-cognizable offences, the Commission said that registration of e-complaint should be allowed.
All e-FIRs should should be forwarded to the court by linking the website of the police with the e-courts portal, the Commission suggested.
Despite there being no provision for online registration of FIRs under the Code of Criminal Procedure, currently, seven states, namely, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, and the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi have developed a mechanism allowing limited registration of electronic first information reports on vehicle or property theft, or lost articles like wallet, pursue, or important documents.
Read the recommendations of the Law Commission here.