Due to the march of technology, the means of communication have progressed in leaps and bounds and in such a landscape, clinging on to an archaic system for registering first information reports (FIRs) does not augur well for criminal reforms, the Law Commission has stated, while recommending registration of electronic FIRs.
THE 282nd Law Commission of India has recommended an amendment in Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973 to enable registration of electronic first information reports (e-FIRs).
In its report, the commission says: “Enabling registration of e-FIRs would tackle the long persisting issue of delay in registration of FIRs, allowing citizens to report crimes in real time.”
These recommendations were made pursuant to a reference received from the home ministry in 2018 to study the feasibility of amending Section 154 to enable online registration of FIRs.
These suggestions have been made keeping in mind India’s flagship Digital India Mission which seeks digital empowerment.
No provision for e-FIR in the CrPC
The CrPC or the Indian Penal Code (IPC) do not use the word ‘FIR’. However, many police guidelines and departmental regulations use the word, which has become a part of common legal parlance.
The CrPC defines a complaint as allegations made orally or in writing to a magistrate.
Section 154 has been interpreted to include filing of an FIR in cases of cognisable offence.
Whereas, in non-cognisable cases, the police cannot initiate an investigation without an Order from a magistrate as per Section 155 of the CrPC.
An FIR can be filed by anyone who has information about the commission of an offence, including a police officer or victim.
A concept of zero FIR was introduced in the aftermath of the 2012 Delhi gangrape after the recommendation of the J.S. Verma Committee on criminal reforms.
A zero FIR can be filed in any police station before the concerned police station takes cognisance of it.
There is no provision for the registration of e-FIRs under the CrPC.
However, e-FIRs were partially introduced through the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System (CCTNS) in eight states (Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand) for select offences such as theft.
The CCTNS was introduced in 2009 and it aimed to interlink all police stations under a common application software for the purpose of investigation, search and policy making.
Through the CCTNS, a facility for registration of online complaints was made available in all states and Union territories.
What are the recommendations
The commission has recommended making a provision for registration of e-FIRs in all cases of cognisable offences where the accused is unknown.
In cases where the accused is known, e-FIRs can be permitted in all cognisable offences attracting punishment up to three years, the commission has recommended.
The commission has recommended enabling e-FIRs only for offences with a maximum punishment of up to three years in light of the strict guidelines on arrest to protect the accused against any possible misuse.
The Supreme Court in Arnesh Kumar versus State of Bihar (2014) stated that the police cannot arrest a person simply because there are charges of cognisable and non-bailable offence against him.
The police must arrive at a reasonable satisfaction that the allegations are genuine before an arrest is made. This is a safeguard against the accused from any kind of arbitrary arrest.
The commission states: “A layman may not be aware of the legal intricacies and once registration of FIR by way of e-FIR in all cases is allowed, it may cause extremely high investigative burden on police apart from curtailing its power to conduct preliminary inquiry in appropriate cases.”
If the proposed e-FIR system proves to be efficient, the commission has recommended that states may expand the list of offences for which e-FIR may be registered in future.
Further, the commission added that registration of e-FIRs may not be allowed in a certain category of cases which require preliminary inquiry.
The Supreme Court in Lalita Kumari stated that in cases involving matrimonial disputes, commercial offences, medical negligence, and corruption cases and in cases where there was an abnormal delay in initiating criminal prosecution, a preliminary inquiry may precede the filing of an FIR.
The commission has also recommended the registration of e-complaints in all cases of non-cognisable offences under Section 155 of the CrPC.
In cases of registration of e-FIRs as well as e-complaint, the commission has recommended that the complainant or the informant’s details should be verified using e-authentication techniques.
Moreover, the complainant would be required to upload a valid identity proof like Aadhaar.
Where a false e-FIR or e-complaint has been registered, a minimum punishment of imprisonment and fine has been recommended by the commission by amending Section 182 of the IPC.
The proposed amendment under Section 182 suggests an imprisonment which may extend up to two years, or with fine which may extend up to ten thousand rupees.
To maintain the privacy of the parties, the name of the suspect will be secured till the e-FIR is signed by the complainant.