The recording of ‘information’ under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code (hereinafter referred to as Cr.P.C) is one of the most important procedures, which inter alia sets in motion the criminal justice system as and when a cognisable offence is committed. Section 154, Cr.P.C is the inaugural provision of Chapter XII– Information to the police and their powers to investigate and only relates to cognizable cases.
This section lays down the procedure for the recording of first information of a cognizable offence and enlists the rights and duties of the police in conducting investigations. It is the bedrock upon which the corpus of the criminal justice system relies for the collection of evidence and the prosecution of offenders. The time, manner, and the mode of recording of information under Section 154 Cr.P.C. influences the trial substantially. If there is delay in recording of information, or impartiality or lack of objectivity on part of officer in charge of police station, it may adversely impact the fairness of trial. This research paper aims to explore and discuss three concerns in the provision of Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C) in India, which lays down the procedure for recording the first information of a cognizable offence This blogpost raises three concerns in the provision, which needs a thorough discussion for churning out an improved, up-to-date, and effective mechanism for recording of information with respect to commission of cognizable offence. The first concern relates to the implications of recording information in case of gender-neutral offences under Section 154, Cr.P.C, where the first proviso mandates recording of information by a woman police officer or any woman officer. The second concern focuses on enhancing the recording of information for disabled victims under Section 154, Cr.P.C, where the second proviso allows the use of video-conferencing. The third concern addresses the issue of delays and inefficiencies in the recording of information under Section 154, Cr.P.C, and suggests the need for technological advancements and policy reforms to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system.
Understanding the Implications of Recording Information in Case of Gender-Neutral Offences under Section 154, Cr.P.C
The first concern with respect to the recording of ‘information’ under Section 154 Cr.P.C arises from the first proviso, which states that:
if the information is given by the woman against whom an offence under section 326A,
section 326B, section 354, section 354A, section 354B, section 354C, section 354D, section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C, section 376D, section 376E or section 509 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) is alleged to have been committed or attempted, then such information shall be recorded, by a woman police officer or any woman officer.
For the application of this proviso, the pre-requisite is that the information must be given by a ‘woman.’ However, there are two category of offences covered under this proviso. The first category includes gender neutral offences – Section 326A (Voluntary Causing grievous hurt by use of acid, etc.) and Section 326B (Voluntary throwing or attempting to throw acid) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter IPC) in case of which the victim can be of any gender. The second category includes all the other offences (Section 354A, Section 354B, Section 354C, Section 354D, Section 376, Section 376A-Section 376E and Section 509) except the abovementioned two, in case of which the victim can be ‘woman’ only and the perpetrator can be ‘man’ only.
The proviso mandates recording of ‘information’ under Section 154 Cr.P.C. by a woman police officer or any woman officer as it was primarily drafted to safeguard the woman as both category predominantly covers offences against the body of woman. However, as we have seen above, Section 326A and Section 326B IPC are gender neutral offences, which can be caused by even women. Moreover, post the 2013 criminal law amendment in Section 375, IPC (Rape), since the definition of rape has been comprehensively enlarged to include non-penile insertion, it cannot be legally denied that even ‘men’ or ‘person of any gender’ can be victim of rape.
Although, we must cover a long way in reaching to ‘gender neutral’ rape laws, at this point, we can start questioning the assumption behind ordaining only ‘woman police officer’ or ‘woman officer’ in recording the information. The assumption is that, a woman victim would feel more secured and protected in disclosing offences committed against their body to a woman officer. But, what about men who are the victims of offences under Section 326A and Section 326B IPC, 1860? What if these offences have been in-fact committed by woman? What if these offences have been committed by woman against transgenders?
The IPC clearly fails to protect such class of persons in those circumstances. My suggestion is that, the mechanism of separate recording of information in the class of offences prescribed under Section 154, Cr.P.C. is appropriate. What needs to be amended is that, in place of ‘woman police officer’ or ‘woman officer’ recording such information, an officer who undergoes a mandatory training in ‘gender sensitization programme’ must be designated to be a qualified person, who can record such category of information. This will help to fight gender biasedness and gender insensitivity, especially towards the LGBTQIA+ community in the criminal justice system. In the alternative, every officer in the police station must undergo such training in ‘gender sensitization’ and this separate mechanism can be repealed altogether. The latter suggestion is relatively more idealistic and may not be a sound policy in the short run..
Enhancing the Recording of Information for Disabled Victims under Section Cr.P.C: The Role of Video-conferencing
The second concern with respect to the recording of ‘information’ under Section 154 Cr.P.C springs from the second proviso which states that:
- in the event that the person against whom an offence under section 354, section 354A, section 354B, section 354C, section 354D, section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C, section 376D, section 376E or section 509 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) is alleged to have been committed or attempted, is temporarily or permanently mentally or physically disabled, then such information shall be recorded by a police officer, at the residence of the person seeking to report such offence or at a convenient place of such person’s choice, in the presence of an interpreter or a special educator, as the case may be;
This proviso’s main object is to assist the victim ‘woman’ in recording of information after serious cognisable offences against her body has been committed or attempted, resulting in temporary or permanent mental or physical disability to her. It makes a rationale assumption that, whenever such offences are committed or attempted against a woman, she is usually not in a frame of mind to herself visit the police-station and give information to the officer-in-charge. Thus, it allows such information to be recorded at the residence of the victim woman or at a convenient place of her choice. The improvement which is incumbent in this mechanism, in my view, is the introduction of ‘video-conference’ for recording of information in such case. The pervasive use of internet and success of ‘Digital India’ has reached to the grassroots and post-covid, we are becoming relatively more accustomed to the ‘e-courts’ system. Introducing an option of recording the information in offences covered under second proviso through video-conference will bring promptness as well as an added layer of security to women who are victims of these crimes. In rural areas, most of these offences go un-investigated because the police officers unlawfully exercise ‘discretion’ in not visiting residence of victims and compelling them to physically be present at the police station for recording information. Even if they chose to visit, it is not a clandestine affair and the fact of policemen knocking doors of victim often creates hullaballoo in surrounding area, resulting in victim’s discouragement and fear to reveal correct information. If there is an option available to the victim to video-call over internet to the police officer, she can reveal information without any fear and more promptly.
Removing the Barriers to Recording Information: An Analysis of the Anomaly in Section 154(3), Cr.P.C.
The third concern arises from the anomaly of recording ‘mandatory’ written complaint under Section 154(3), Cr.P.C., which states that:
(3) Any person aggrieved by a refusal on the part of an officer in charge of a police station to record the information referred to in sub-section (1) may send the substance of such information, in writing and by post, to the Superintendent of Police concerned who, if satisfied that such information discloses the commission of a cognizable offence, shall either investigate the case himself or direct an investigation to be made by any police officer subordinate to him, in the manner provided by this Code, and such officer shall have all the powers of an officer in charge of the police station in relation to that offence.
The object of this provision is to provide an alternative option to the informant, who is aggrieved by the refusal of officer-in-charge of a police station to record the information. It allows the aggrieved informant to send the substance of such information with respect to commission of cognizable offence ‘in writing’ and by post to the Superintendent of Police. The problem which arises is the pre-requisite of such information to be ‘in writing.’ If we closely analyse Section 154(1), Cr.P.C., then it becomes clear that no ‘one-route’ mechanism has been set for the informant for providing the information. In other words, the informant is free to provide the information, orally or in writing or by any other reasonable means. The rationale therein, is to make the mechanism as flexible as possible to cater to a wide range of informants- literate, illiterate, educated as well as uneducated.
If the draftsmen did not make any mode specific for the recording of information mandatory, to make it so for the subsequent time, i.e., after refusal in the first instance does not appear logically impressive. Let us understand this with a hypothetical situation. Suppose, if ‘A,’ an illiterate poor tribal woman from Madhya-Pradesh has been assaulted without any reason by a group of policemen. Later, she goes to the nearby police station to lodge the information about the same incident and the officer in charge refuses to entertain her request. Now, as per Section 154(1), Cr.P.C, she can exercise her statutory right of approaching the Superintendent of Police and thereupon record the information. But, the requirements of the provision make her life worse. First, she must search someone, who can ‘reduce in writing’ the substance of her information and then afterwards, she must take the extra pain of (herself or with the help of someone)‘posting’ the letter. This seems unfair and arbitrary. The author is of the opinion that, we can get rid of the mandatory requirement of sending the information in writing and by post. To make the recording of information flexible in the second instance also will expand the ambit of the recording of information.
Any statute, however visionary, must undergo a transformation to keep abreast with contemporary times. The Code of Criminal Procedure is also not unaffected by this principle. Recording of information is the first step that sets the criminal justice system in motion. The first suggestion in this blog post raises concerns about the recording of information by ‘woman officers’ in even gender-neutral offences specified under Section 154(1), Cr.P.C. The second concern relates to recording of information in case of mentally or physically disabled woman victims. The third concern throws light on the anomaly of submitting mandatory ‘written’ complaint to the Superintendent of police.
In addition to the critical analysis of the concerns regarding the recording of information in the Code of Criminal Procedure, the suggestions made in this blog post aim to improve the criminal justice system by ensuring the protection and sensitivity towards all victims of crimes. By designating officers who have undergone mandatory training in gender sensitization to record information on gender-neutral offences, and amending the current mechanism for recording information in cases involving mentally or physically disabled woman victims, the proposed changes can help fight gender bias and insensitivity towards the LGBTQIA+ community in the criminal justice system. Additionally, eliminating the requirement for a mandatory “written” complaint can streamline the process and provide ease of access for victims of crime. Overall, the suggested changes aim to modernize the criminal justice system and make it more equitable for all individuals involved.
The suggestions to these three concerns call for an extensive, critical, and elaborate discussion from academia, bar, and the bench. It is imperative for the criminal justice system to keep reforming and overhauling its wheels, for marching ahead amidst all challenges and obstacles.
[Author is a penultimate year law student at National Law University, Jodhpur]