Newsclick case: Opposing furnishing copy of FIR violates the right to fair trial of accused

The Delhi police opposing the application of the Newsclick founder to furnish a copy of the first information report (FIR) goes against the well-established principles of criminal law which protects the fair trial guarantee of the accused person.

TODAY, the Delhi Police opposed a plea of the Newsclick founder Prabir Purkayastha and head of human resource Amit Chakravarty seeking a copy of the first information report (FIR) against them.

Purkayastha and Chakravarty were arrested on October 3  in an alleged terror-funding case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and Sections 153A read with 120B of the Indian Penal Code for purportedly carrying “Chinese propaganda” on the website.

The Delhi police termed the application of Purkayastha and Chakravarty as “premature” before a Patiala House Court.

According to the Delhi police, Purkayastha and Chakravarty should have first approached the office of the commissioner for a copy of the FIR.

As per the official statement released by Newsclick, raids were carried out by the special cell of the Delhi police at various locations including Newsclick’s office, residents of the journalists and employees associated with Newsclick on October 3.

The police seized electronic devices from Newsclick’s office and elsewhere during raids.

The statement noted: “We have not been provided with a copy of the FIR, or informed about the exact particulars of the offences with which we have been charged.”

Purkayastha and Chakravarty are now in police remand for seven days. 

What does the law say?

Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, (CrPC) 1973, comes into play in cases of cognisable and non-bailable offences. Although the Section does not use the word FIR, legal practice and subsequent interpretation have included the FIR within the purview of Section 154.

In a landmark case of Lalita Kumari versus State of Uttar Pradesh (2014), the Supreme Court observed that an FIR must be registered in all cases where a commission of cognisable offence has taken place. A copy of the FIR must be given to the informant free of cost.

In another judgment, Jayantibhai Lalubhai Patel versus State of Gujarat (1992), the high court held that the police officer is bound to send a copy of the FIR to the magistrate under Section 157 of the CrPC. Once the copy of an FIR is sent to the magistrate, it becomes a public document.

A magistrate is entitled to send a copy of the FIR to the accused when asked. The denial of the same would cause prejudice to the accused as the principle of natural justice and fair trial guaranteed under Article 21 is violated.

The court noted: “FIR is a document which is of considerable value to the accused because it shows on what materials the investigation commenced and what was the prosecution’s case.”

In Mohammed Khalid Shaikh versus State of Maharashtra (2010), the Bombay High Court elaborated on the violation of Article 21 by not furnishing a copy of the FIR to the accused. 

The high court held: “Arrest results in deprivation of personal liberty. The procedure for deprivation of personal liberty must be fair and reasonable. Arresting a person without telling accusation against him is unfair and would be violative of Article 21 of the Constitution.

The court continued: “The accused must be given a copy of the FIR at or before his arrest. The accused is entitled to a fair trial. Fair trial in the context of Article 21 of the Constitution includes not only the fair hearing of the case but every stage of the case including hearing for bail”.

According to the judgment, the fairness guarantee requires that at every stage of the criminal trial, the accused must know what are the accusations made against him. Deprivation of the same would amount to depriving the accused a fair opportunity of securing personal liberty by way of a bail.

The Leaflet