Filing a Complaint Case: Its Procedures

What is a Complaint Case?

A complaint case is a case filed before a Magistrate, orally or in writing, by a complainant alleging commission of an offence by a known or unknown person, with a view to taking an action by him, under Section 190 (1) (a) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC).

A complaint is a statement of facts which constitute an offence.

Complaint relating to a non-cognizable case

When a person files a petition in regard to a cognizable case before a police officer, the police officer can only refer the informant to the Magistrate under section 155 (2) CrPC, after entering the substance in the book kept in the police station.

On the other hand, when a person files a complaint of facts under Section 190 (1) (a) CrPC before a Magistrate, in regard to a non-cognizable one, the Magistrate can order police investigation into the case under Section 156(3) CrPC.

The police officer can then conduct an investigation into the case and submit the police report before the Magistrate. The Magistrate in turn can take cognizance in the case, if there is substance in the complaint or else it will be dropped.

If cognizance is taken by the Magistrate, the case will proceed further by following the procedures of a cognizable offence itself.

Complaint relating to a cognizable offence

When a complaint relating to commission of a cognizable offence is instituted before a Magistrate, the Magistrate may send that complaint to the concerned Police Station with the direction to lodge an FIR and investigate the case, under Section 156(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC).

The power to order police investigation under Section 156(3) CrPC is exercisable at the pre-cognizance stage only. That means before examining the complaint or before taking cognizance on the complaint under section 200 of the CrPC.

But, where the Magistrate has taken cognizance under Section 190(1)(a) and recorded the statement of the complainant under section 200 CrPC, he is not competent to switch back to the pre-cognizance stage and direct the police to register the case upon such complaint for investigation under Section 156(3) CrPC.

Investigation u/s 202 is for different purpose

The investigation under Section 156(3) CrPC is different from that of the investigation under Section 202 CrPC.

The object of an investigation under Section 202 CrPC is to assist the Magistrate in taking cognizance of the offence and proceed with the complaint instituted before him.

If the Magistrate decides or proposes to take cognizance of the offence on receipt of the complaint, he cannot order any investigation under Section 156(3) CrPC. Once he inclines to take cognizance of the offence, he cannot go back to 156(3) but to follow the procedure envisaged in Chapter XV of CrPC.

Magistrate to examine the complainant/witnesses

If the offence in the complaint is a cognisable one the Magistrate should examine the complainant and the witnesses present, on oath.

He should reduce the substance of such examination to writing and get it signed by the complainant, the witnesses and the Magistrate himself.

The object is to test whether allegations make out a prima facie case to assure the Magistrate to issue process under Section 204 CrPC. The Section 200 of the CrPC requires the Magistrate to examine not only the complainant, but also his witnesses present, as well.

In every case the statement of the complainant under Section 200 CrPC be recorded on the same day, on which the complaint is made. If the statement cannot be recorded on the same day for some reasons, it should be recorded on the following day. It should be ensured not to cause more inconvenience than the minimum to the complainants.

If the complaint is in writing, the Magistrate need not examine the complainant and the witnesses.

What to do after examining the complainant

After recording the statements and evidence of the complainant and the witnesses, the Magistrate has three options –

  1. He may issue process under Section 204 CrPC, if prima facie offence is made out and the accused is residing within the area to which the local jurisdiction of the Magistrate extends.
  2. He may dismiss the complaint under Section 203 CrPC, if no prima facie offence is made out and there is no sufficient ground for proceeding, or
  3. He may postpone issue of process pending further inquiry by himself, or investigation by police or any other person as he deems fit under Section 202 CrPC.

Magistrate can conduct an inquiry

If the Magistrate thinks it is necessary, he can conduct an inquiry by himself or direct an investigation by a police officer or any other person for ascertaining whether or not there is sufficient ground to proceed with the case (202(1) CrPC).  Of course, the Magistrate has enough power to take cognizance without holding inquiry or directing investigation under section 202 CrPC.

While conducting the inquiry the Magistrate can examine the witnesses on oath (202 (2) CrPC). The complainant has to produce the witnesses if the case appears to be a Sessions Case.

Dismissal of a complaint case

The Magistrate, after duly considering the statements of the complainant / witnesses and the inquiry or investigation conducted under Section 202 CrPC, does not find sufficient ground for proceeding he shall dismiss the complaint.

In every such case he shall record his reasons for dismissal (Section 203 CrPC). Without recording reasons, it is impossible for an appeal court to determine whether the Magistrate applied his mind or discretion was exercised properly, while scrutinising the order.

Issue of process to the accused

If the Magistrate finds sufficient grounds to proceed with the case, he shall take cognizance of the offence and proceed with the case by issuing process under Section 204 CrPC.

A speaking order detailing the reasons is not necessary, as in the case of dismissal, when proceeding with the case. Only a prima facie satisfaction of the Magistrate is needed to proceed with. A prima facie case means all essential ingredients of the offence are present as per the statements recorded under Section 200 or 202 CrPC or as per investigation report (if any) made by an investigation agency under Section 202 CrPC.

The process can be issued directly against the accused person on the sole basis of statements and evidence recorded under section 200 CrPC, if prima facie offence is made out as per statements/evidence available under Section 200 CrPC except when the accused person resides out of the local limits of the jurisdiction of the Magistrate.

Inquiry is a must if accused stays outside the jurisdiction

The Magistrate will have to hold an inquiry by himself for the purpose of deciding whether or not, there is sufficient ground for proceeding in the case, if the accused is residing at a place beyond the area in which  the Magistrate exercises his jurisdiction, under Section 202 CrPC.

Conducting inquiry or investigation

As per Section 202 CrPC, it is crystal clear that the Magistrate has the following options

  1. The Magistrate may inquire the matter himself and if he inquires the matter himself, he may record the statements of the witnesses on oath, or
  2. He may direct an investigation to be made by a police officer, or
  3. He may direct an investigation to be made by such person other than police officer.

Procedure when it is a Warrant Case

If the Magistrate takes cognizance of the offence, he shall issue either a warrant, if it appears to be a warrant case or a summons, if it appears to be a summons case, for causing the accused to be brought before him at a specified time.

A warrant case means a case relating to an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding ten years. A summons case means a case relating to an offence which is not a warrant case.

Magistrate can decide whether summons or warrant

In summons case a Magistrate is required to issue a summons but in a warrant case he has discretion to issue either a warrant or a summons.

Even in a summons case he may issue a warrant after recording his special reasons for doing so under Section 87 CrPC.  The Magistrate can issue summons in a warrant case also if he thinks fit to do so.

No warrant or summons shall be issued until the prosecution files the list of witnesses. This would enable the accused to prepare himself for their cross examination and prevent the complainant come up with made up witnesses.

Every copy of the summons or warrant shall be accompanied by a copy of the complaint. This would enable the accused to know what precisely is the case against him.

If it is not a Sessions case the Magistrate will proceed further as described below. If it is a Sessions case, he will follow the procedure of a Sessions case and commit the case to the Sessions Court, as detailed further below.

Trial procedure in the Magistrate court

When the accused is brought before the Magistrate, he shall satisfy himself that all the documents have been served to him under Section 207 CrPC.

Then the Magistrate shall proceed to hear the prosecution and take all such evidence.

If the charge against him is groundless, the Magistrate, after considering the reports and documents, shall discharge him of the offence and record the reason for so doing (245 CrPC).

If the Magistrate is of the opinions that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence, he shall frame in writing a charge against the accused under Section 246.

The charge shall contain the time and place of the alleged offence and the person against whom / thing in respect of which, it was committed. The court can alter or add any charge at any time before judgement is pronounced.

If the accused pleads guilty, the Magistrate shall fix a date for the examination of the witnesses and issue summons (246 (4) CrPC).

Then the accused shall be called upon to enter upon his defence and produce his defence evidence as per Section 247/243 CrPC.

If the Magistrate finds that the accused is not guilty, he shall record an order of acquittal. If the accused is guilty, he shall, after hearing the accused on the question of sentence, pass sentence on him according to law.

Trial procedure in a Sessions Case

If the case appears to the Magistrate as a Sessions Case triable by a Court of Session, it is mandatory for the Court to call upon the complainant to produce all his witnesses and examine them on oath, as per proviso to Section 202 (2) CrPC because the word shall has been used in proviso to the Section.

The Magistrate shall furnish all the documents to be provided to the accused under Section 207 or 208 CrPC such as copies of the statements recorded of the complaint and the witnesses, the statements recorded by the police/the Magistrate (under Section or 161 or 164 CrPC) and any other document the prosecution proposed to rely on, and commit the case to the court of Session. If the document is voluminous, he shall allow the accused to inspect it instead of sending a copy of them.

Then the Magistrate may remand the accused to custody, if need be, and send to the Sessions Court the record of the case, and the documents and the articles which are to be produced as evidence, and notify the commitment of the case to the Public Prosecutor.

Public Prosecutor to conduct trial

The Public Prosecutor will conduct the trial before a Court of Session. After the commitment of the case before the Court of Session, the Public Prosecutor shall open his case by describing the charge brought against the accused and state what evidence he proposes to prove the guilt of the accused.

Discharge of the accused

The Sessions Judge, after considering the records and documents and hearing the submissions of the prosecution and the accused, considers that there is no sufficient ground for proceeding against thee accused, he shall discharge the accused and record his reasons for doing so.

Framing of charge when not discharged

The judge will consider whether there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed the offence so as to proceed further.

In case he finds that the case is not the one exclusively triable by the Court of Session he may frame a charge against the accused and transfer it to the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM).

If it is exclusively triable by the Court of Session, he shall frame the charge against the accused.  The charge shall be read and explained to the accused and accused shall be asked whether he pleads guilty of the offence or not.

If accused pleads guilty

If the accused pleads guilty the Judge shall record the plea and may convict him in his discretion.

If not pleading guilty

If the accused refuse to plead guilty, the judge shall fix a date for the examination of witnesses under Section 229 CrPC and may issue any process for compelling the attendance of the witnesses or for production of any documents or other thing.

Prosecution evidence

On the date so fixed, the Judge shall proceed to take all such evidence as may be produced by the prosecution.

Acquittal in case no proof of committing the offence

If after taking the evidence of the prosecution, examining the accused, and hearing the prosecution and the defence, the Judge considers that there is no evidence that the accused committed the offence the judge shall record an order of acquittal.

Defence evidence

If the accused is not acquitted, he shall be called on to enter on his defence and adduce any evidence he may have in support of him.

On request from the accused the Judge shall issue any process to compel the attendance of any witness and or the production of any document or thing.

Prosecution sums up its case

When the examination of the defence is complete the prosecution shall sum up his case and the accused or his pleader shall be entitled to reply.

If any point of law is raised by the accused or his pleader the prosecution may, with permission of the court, make his submission in regard to such point of law.

Judgement in the case

After hearing the arguments and the points of law the judge shall give a judgement in the case.