Coming straight to the crux of the matter, let be begin by pointing out first and foremost that in a landmark decision which could have far reaching potential consequences like ushering in more transparency in police functioning across the nation, the Supreme Court on September 7, 2016 asked the States and Union Territories (UTs) to upload FIRs on their websites within 24 hours of their registration to protect the interest of the accused and their families. This is something that we have never previously heard of. This alone explains how landmark it is. The order would be effective from November 15. It seeks to remove a source of perpetual harassment and poses a digital challenge to law enforcement agencies.
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, it must be revealed here for their benefit that a bench comprising Justice Dipak Misra and Justice C Nagappan, however, exempted the police across the nation from uploading the FIRs on the websites if the offences were sensitive in nature and pertained to insurgency, terrorism and sexual cases including those lodged under the POCSO Act. The Bench made it amply clear in its landmark judgment titled Youth Bar Association of India vs Union of India and others that, “The copies of FIRs, unless the offence is sensitive in nature, like sexual offences, offences pertaining to insurgency, terrorism and of that category, offences under POCSO Act and such other offences, should be uploaded on the police website, and if there is no such website, on the official website of the state government, within 24 hours of the registration of the first information report so that the accused or any person connected with the same can download the FIR and file appropriate application before the court as per law for redressal of his grievances.”
Let me hasten to add here for my esteemed readers exclusive benefit that the Bench itself clarified that the list of exempted offences was only illustrative and not exhaustive. Let me also add here that in case the FIR was not uploaded in time in any case, the aggrieved person could immediately approach the area police officer in the rank of Superintendent of Police (SP) and the SP would then have to appoint a committee of three senior officers to redress the grievance within three days.
For my esteemed readers exclusive benefit, let me also reveal here that the bench, which held that an accused is entitled to get a copy of the FIR at an earlier stage, said “it may be clarified here that in case there are connectivity problems due to geographical location or there is some other unavoidable difficulty, the time can be extended up to 48 hours. The Bench added that, “The said 48 hours can be extended maximum up to 72 hours and it is only relatable to connectivity problems due to geographical location.” States with poor internet connectivity such as those in the North East, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand could take a maximum of 72 hours for the purpose.
Be it noted, the order came on a PIL filed by the Youth Bar Association of India, represented by President Sanpreet Singh Ajmani. It must be also noted here that the directives were on the lines of an order by the Delhi High Court in a suo motu case. A High Court Bench of Delhi High Court comprising the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Manmohan had delivered the judgment on December 6, 2010.
It would be imperative to bring out here that on September 7, 2016, the Apex Court made it valid for all States and Union Territories with some modifications and directed the court registry to send the order to all State police chiefs. It must also be brought out here that the Bench said that it had passed the order as Section 207 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) merely stated that the accused persons were entitled to get FIR copies “without delay”, instead of specifying a deadline and this was causing hardship to them and their family members.
The court clarified that failure to upload an FIR per se would not be a ground for acquitting the accused in a case. Lawyers said later that the police would face contempt charges if they ignored the directive. Although a provision in the Criminal POrocedure Code does mandate that a copy of the FIR “shall be given forthwith, free of cost to the informant,”the police are often accused of ignoring the rule.
It is a no-brainer that copies of FIRs are essential are indispensable for the complainant as well as the accused. In the absence of a copy, the complainant can never be sure whether all the charges and all the accused have been included. For the accused, the copy is needed to prepare his legal defence and arguments for seeking bail.
It must be disclosed here that in Calcutta, every FIR registered with the 69 police stations is uploaded on a website called “Crime Babu”. But this site is so far meant for police officers and not the rest of the citizens. But this landmark judgment has opened the doors for all the citizens. Union Home Ministry officials have said that all the 15,000 police stations in India would be computerized under a project launched after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. But the officials could not readily say how many have been computerized till now.
To recapitulate, the following are the 10 important guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in this landmark case of Youth Bar Association of India vs Union of India and others on FIR issued by Justices Dipak Misra and C Nagappan on a PIL filed by an NGO, the Youth Bar Association of India: –
(a) An accused is entitled to get a copy of the First Information Report at an earlier stage than as prescribed under Section 207 of the Cr.P.C.
(b) An accused who has reasons to suspect that he has been roped in a criminal case and his name may be finding place in a First Information Report can submit an application through his representative/agent/parokar for grant of a certified copy before the concerned police officer or to the Superintendent of Police on payment of such fee which is payable for obtaining such a copy from the Court. On such application being made, the copy shall be supplied within twenty-four hours.
(c) Once the First Information Report is forwarded by the police station to the concerned Magistrate or any Special Judge, on an application being filed for certified copy on behalf of the accused, the same shall be given by the Court concerned within two working days. The aforesaid direction has nothing to do with the statutory mandate inhered under Section 207 of the Cr.P.C.
(d) The copies of the FIRs, unless the offence is sensitive in nature, like sexual offences, offences pertaining to insurgency, terrorism and of that category, offences under POCSO Act and such other offences, should be uploaded on the police website, and if there is no such website, on the official website of the State Government, within twenty-four hours of the registration of the First Information Report so that the accused or any person connected with the same can download the FIR and file appropriate application before the Court as per law for redressal of his grievances. It may be clarified here that in case there is connectivity problems due to geographical location or there is some other unavoidable difficulty, the time can be extended up to forty-eight hours. The said 48 hours can be extended maximum up to 72 hours and it is only relatable to connectivity problems due to geographical location.
(e) The decision not to upload the copy of the FIR on the website shall not be taken by an officer below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police or any person holding equivalent post. In case, the States where District Magistrate has a role, he may also assume the said authority. A decision taken by the concerned police officer or the District Magistrate shall be duly communicated to the concerned jurisdictional Magistrate.
(f) The word ‘sensitive’ apart from the other aspects which may be thought of being sensitive by the competent authority as stated hereinbefore would also include concept of privacy regard being had to the nature of the FIR. The examples given with regard to the sensitive cases are absolutely illustrative and are not exhaustive.
(g) If an FIR is not uploaded, needless to say, it shall not enure per se a ground to obtain the benefit under Section 438 of the Cr.P.C.
(h) In case a copy of the FIR is not provided on the ground of sensitive nature of the case, a person grieved by the said action, after disclosing his identity, can submit a representation to the Superintendent of Police or any person holding the equivalent post in the State. The Superintendent of Police shall constitute a committee of three officers which shall deal with the said grievance. As far as the Metropolitan cities are concerned, where Commissioner is there, if a representation is submitted to the Commissioner of Police who shall constitute a committee of three officers. The committee so constituted shall deal with the grievance within three days from the date of receipt of the representation and communicate it to the grieved person.
(i) The competent authority referred to hereinabove shall constitute the committee, as directed herein-above, within eight weeks from today.
(j) In cases wherein decisions have been taken not to give copies of the FIR regard being had to the sensitive nature of the case, it will be open to the accused/his authorized representative/parokar to file an application for grant of certified copy before the Court to which the FIR has been sent and the same shall be provided in quite promptitude by the concerned Court not beyond three days of the submission of the application.
(k) The directions for uploading of FIR in the website of all the States shall be given effect from 15th November, 2016.
All said and done, this is a very landmark judgment which shall have huge potential ramifications. As we have discussed above, the Supreme Court has categorically directed all police departments in India on September 7, 2016 to upload copies of first information reports (FIRs) on their official website within 24 hours, a move expected to make the legal system more transparent and people friendly. Needless to say, the decision will protect the interests of the suspects and their families, putting a stop to corrupt practices by police, which often demand money to give copies of FIRs to the accused as experts point out also. The law mandates authorities to furnish the accused with a copy of the complaint. But still a lot more remains to be done especially pertaining to extreme reluctance of police to lodge an FIR due to which a common man has to suffer all kinds of inconveniences and feels mentally drained also! This too has to end now as it cannot continue indefinitely! I am absolutely sure Supreme Court will one day act decisively on this count also! However, a good beginning has been made by this landmark judgment. It will alleviate the sufferings of a common man to a great extent! Now it must also be carried forward!