By Devangana Kuthari and Ishani Mookherjee
The term ‘Protest Petition’ has not been defined under any statute in India, whether the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1973 or the Indian Penal Code, 1860. However, it has been accepted in practice and has been a part of the criminal procedure in India, even before independence, though with regional variations. While the High Courts of Patna and Calcutta have extensively dealt with such concerns before independence, the first reported judgment from Delhi does not come before 1990.
Initially, referred to as Naraji Petitions, which loosely translates to ‘dissatisfaction’, Protest Petitions are defined as representations made by the aggrieved person, victim or complainant/informant to the Magistrate. If the informant or victim is dissatisfied with the investigation and the Closure Report filed by the police under Section 173, read with Section 169, he can make submissions challenging the Report and raise objections against it.
This essay highlights the process of filing a Protest Petition and examines the extent of discretion vested with the Magistrate to deal with them. It asserts that even though Protest Petitions could be used as a tool to challenge unconvinced closure of cases, owing to lack of awareness and codification, it fails to achieve its purpose.
Filing a Protest Petition
The Court, in Bhagwant Singh v. Commissioner of Police and Anr AIR [1985 SC 1285], clarified the situation in which a Protest Petition can be filed. As per the decision, on completion of the investigation, the police is required to forward to the Magistrate a police report under Section 173(2)(i), setting out whether, in its opinion, an offence has been committed. The police may either file a charge sheet concluding that an offence appears to have been committed or a closure report, stating that, in the opinion of the police, no offence appears to have been committed. In either case, if the Magistrate takes cognizance of the offence, no Protest Petition lies.
However, when the Magistrate decides that there is no sufficient ground for proceeding further and drops the proceeding, the informant’s interest, in prompt and effective action on the FIR, would be prejudiced. Thus, if the Magistrate is inclined to accept the closure report or reject the charge sheet, then the informant must be given an opportunity to be heard, challenge the investigation process and make a submission against the closure report, so as to persuade the Magistrate to take cognizance of the offence. Such a challenge can be made through a Protest Petition.
Thus, a Protest Petition embodies the rule of fair hearing even before Trial begins. In In re: Indranil Mukherjee [2017 SCC Online Cal 210], the Magistrate is bound to give notice, make available copies of witness statements and relevant documents and provide the informant with an opportunity to be heard at the time of consideration of the police report. The difficulty of service of notice on the informant cannot be a justification for depriving the informant of such opportunity. In this aspect, Protest Petitions can be used to check unconvincing closure of cases and ensure that the rule of fair disclosure of evidence is adequately complied with.
An injured person or the relative of the victim/deceased, who is not the informant, can appear before the Magistrate and file a Protest Petition. However, in Sanjay Bansal and Ors. v. Jawaharlal Vats and Ors. [AIR 2008 SC 207], the Court held that he is not entitled to any notice unless the Magistrate in the exercise of her discretion thinks it fit. This creates a technical obstacle for such individuals, consequently, jeopardizing their right to know about the progress of a criminal complaint, which might intrinsically concern them. In case of the indifference of the informant, lack of notice and consequent lack of opportunity of being heard to these individuals considerably reduces the effectiveness of Protest Petitions in preventing unconvincing closure of cases.
Magistrate’s Judicial Discretion while dealing with Protest Petitions:
If a closure report is filed, the Magistrate is not obligated to accept the closure report and may deal with it in different ways. She can take suo moto cognizance, as provided under Section 190(1)(c). If a Protest Petition has been filed, the Magistrate may accept the Protest Petition and reject the Final Report and take cognizance under Section 190(1)(b) of CrPC. Also, she can direct for further investigation under Section 173(8) and Section 165(3) of CrPC, if the evidence is found to be deficient, and order a separate police report.
Another interesting alternative available to the Magistrate is that she may accept the final closure report or decline the charge sheet, but treat the Protest Petition as a complaint and take cognizance of the offence under Section 190(1)(a), as held in Gopal Vijay Verma v. Bhuneshwar Prasad Sinha and Ors. [(1982) 3 SCC 510] and Kishore Kumar Gyanchandani v. G.D.Mehrotra [AIR 2002 SC 483]. The Protest Petition must satisfy the essential ingredients of a complaint. In B Chandrika v. Santosh & Ors. [2013 (14) SCALE 209], the Court held that the Magistrate, in the exercise of judicial discretion, must apply her own mind, examine the evidence placed before her and ascertain the truth and falsehood of the complaint. However, she cannot place reliance on any other material beyond the record of the Investigating Officer to find out the deficiency in the investigation, as recognized by the Court in Chhedi Lal & Others v. State Of U.P. & Another . If the Protest Petition is treated as a complaint, the Magistrate is empowered to conduct the enquiry herself under Section 202. If the Magistrate found a prima facie case on the basis of a police report or by way of Protest Petition, then she can directly issue the process under Section 204 of CrPC.
The aforementioned options available to the Magistrate to decide whether to accept the police report or the Protest Petition and whether to treat the Protest Petition as a complaint clearly indicate the magnanimous amounts of discretion vested with Magistrate. The case of Nupur Talwar v. CBI [AIR 2012 SC 847] is a specifically intriguing case, wherein the informant, who filed the Protest Petition after CBI filed a closure report, ultimately became the accused. The Magistrate, despite rejecting the closure report and the prayer made in the Protest Petition, took cognizance of the offence under Section 204, on careful perusal of the evidence and cautious exercise of discretion. The case provides a good example of how the discretion vested in the Magistrate can act as a check on unconvincing closure of cases before the trial begins, affecting the extent of fair disclosure of evidence and fair trial.
While such discretion ensures flexibility in the investigation and inquiry process, the Magistrate or, for that matter, the law, does not operate in a vacuum and is continuously shadowed by socio-political power structures. Moreover, since the Magistrate cannot consider any evidence that what was not a part of the Investigation Officer’s record; the discretion may not be properly exercised in the absence of fair disclosure of evidence. This creates a blind spot in the process and disables the Magistrate from effectuating a real check on the police’s investigation powers and consequently, unconvincing closure of cases.
Protest Petitions aim to expand informant/victim’s remedies in law as they can be sent directly to the Magistrate without the intervention of the police, therefore often being termed as the informant/victim’s last shot at justice. However, since it depends considerably at the discretion of the Magistrate, the right of the informant may be defeated, without any fault of his part, for instance, if it gets time-barred. Moreover, since it enables the Magistrates to play the role of the prosecutor, rejecting reports, sending them back for re-investigation or even taking charge of the matter themselves, it may lead to biases, which are bound to affect the proceedings, if the case tried in the same Magistrate’s court.
One of the major concerns relating to Protest Petition still remains that owing to unequal access to information and the lack of awareness about police procedure in general and this tool in specific, in addition to the desensitization to the ineptitude of the police, the aggrieved informants/victims are unable to make ample use of the procedure recognized by the Courts. This can also be attributed to the fact that a Protest Petition as a procedural tool has not been explicitly codified in any existing statute in India. This aggravates the ambiguity as to its application in the minds of the general public, police, Magistrates and Courts.
So, it is suggested that the legislature should not only codify the law regarding Protest Petition but also delineate the procedure and extent of its application. This would ensure more clarity and certainty as to the procedure of the filing the Protest Petition and its requirements. Further, the legislature should expand the categories of people, who can file a Protest Petition and are entitled to receive a notice, to include injured persons and relatives of the victim. This is required especially in cases when the informant is a stranger, who isn’t concerned with the progress of the criminal complaint. Additionally, the legislature and the higher judiciary may issue guidelines which should be followed by Magistrate’s at the time of consideration of the charge sheet/closure report and Protest Petition, so as to act as a check on the discretion of the Magistrate and ensure consistency while dealing with unconvincing closures. Such efforts would crystallize the rights of the informant/victim and strengthen Protest Petitions as a tool to check poor investigation by police and unconvincing closure of cases, even before trial begins.
[The co-authors are fourth-year law students at Jindal Global Law School.]
One thought on “Protest Petitions as a Tool to Check Unconvincing Closure of Cases”
wonderful article, however could you please provide some judicial precedents when the investigating officer deliberately let off a few accused persons who happened to be police personnel and their accomplices merely taking their statements in their defense. the protest petition has been lodged with the concerned magistrate at the time of filing chargesheet against a few accused only.
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