In Chapter XV of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), Sections 200 to 203 delineate the specific procedures involved in the examination of complaints by magistrates. These provisions apply exclusively when a magistrate takes cognizance of a complaint.
OBJECTIVE: DISTINGUISHING LEGITIMATE COMPLAINTS
The primary aim of these sections is to discern and filter out false and vexatious complaints without causing undue trouble to the party against whom the complaint is made.
SECTION 200 – EXAMINATION OF COMPLAINANT
- Mandatory Examination : This section outlines the requirement for the magistrate, when taking cognizance of an offense based on a complaint, to examine the complainant and any witnesses present under oath. This examination is obligatory, regardless of whether the complaint is written or oral.
- Objective of Examination : The primary objectives of this examination are twofold. First, it serves to ascertain whether there exists a prima facie case against the person accused in the complaint. Second, it functions as a safeguard against the issuance of legal process in response to false or vexatious complaints.
- Signature Requirement : The content of this examination must be recorded in writing, and it should be signed by the complainant, witnesses, and the magistrate, ensuring the veracity of the recorded statements.
- Exceptions : This section provides exceptions to the general rule of mandatory examination. When the complaint is made in writing by a court or a public servant, such as a police officer, the examination of the complainant and witnesses is not necessary. Furthermore, if the magistrate makes over the case for inquiry or trial to another magistrate under Section 192 and the latter magistrate has examined the complainant and witnesses, there’s no need for re-examination.
- Discretionary Examination : While not obligatory in exceptional cases covered by the exceptions, the magistrate retains the discretion to conduct such examinations if they deem it necessary. This discretion allows flexibility in the examination process.
SECTION 201 – PROCEDURE FOR INCOMPETENT MAGISTRATES
- Complaint to Incompetent Magistrate : This section deals with situations where a complaint has been lodged with a magistrate who does not have the jurisdiction or competence to take cognizance of the alleged offense.
- Returning a Written Complaint : If the complaint is in written form, the section mandates that the magistrate should return it to the person who filed the complaint. The complaint is to be returned with an endorsement indicating that it must be presented before the proper court. In other words, the complaint is rerouted to the appropriate legal authority for consideration.
- Directing in the Case of Oral Complaints : When the complaint is made orally and is not in written form, the magistrate’s responsibility is to direct the complainant to the proper court. This ensures that the complainant approaches the correct legal authority with jurisdiction over the matter.
- Preventing Improper Proceedings : The primary purpose of this section is to prevent improper legal proceedings by ensuring that complaints are handled by the magistrate or court with the legal authority to address the specific offense. It helps maintain legal order and ensures that cases are heard by the correct jurisdiction.
SECTION 202 – POSTPONEMENT OF PROCESS ISSUANCE
This section outlines the course of action available to the magistrate upon receiving a complaint. The magistrate can opt for one of the following alternatives :-
- Issuing Process : The magistrate can issue a legal process against the accused if there are substantial grounds, following evidence recorded as per Section 200, and giving the accused a chance to present reasons.
- Conducting an Inquiry : The magistrate can personally conduct an inquiry, not limited to the complainant’s testimony. The accused can’t participate at this stage.
- Directing Police Investigation : The magistrate can postpone and order a police investigation, with a mandatory report submission.
- Mandatory Duty of Magistrate : It’s the magistrate’s duty to protect those far from their jurisdiction by either conducting an inquiry personally or assigning it to a police officer or authorized person.
- Proviso : If the offense is exclusively for the Sessions Court, the magistrate must personally conduct an inquiry.
- Taking Evidence on Oath (Sub-section 2) : When the offense is solely for the Sessions Court, the magistrate must call witnesses for oath-based examination.
- Investigation by Non-Police Officer (Sub-section 3): If a non-police officer conducts the investigation, they’re empowered similarly to a police officer, except for arrest without a warrant.
SECTION 203 – DISMISSAL OF COMPLAINT
- Dismissal of Complaint : This section allows the magistrate to dismiss a complaint if, after considering the statements of the complainant and witnesses, and the results of the investigation under Section 202, the magistrate believes there are insufficient grounds to proceed. However, if proceedings have commenced against the accused, a complaint cannot be dismissed under this section.
- Recording Reasons : The magistrate is obligated to record reasons when dismissing a complaint. This is essential for the High Court to assess whether the magistrate’s discretion was properly exercised. Failure to record reasons is considered a direct violation of the law.
- Grounds for Dismissal : A complaint can be dismissed for various reasons:
- If, under Section 203, the magistrate believes that no offense has been committed based on the written statement provided in Section 200.
- If the magistrate distrusts the complainant’s statement but not to the extent of taking action. In such cases, a further inquiry under Section 200 can be directed.
- Not Discharge or Acquittal : Dismissing a complaint is neither an order of discharge nor an order of acquittal. Therefore, the legal principles of “autrefois convict” and “autrefois acquit” under Section 300 do not apply.
- Second Complaint : After the first complaint is dismissed, a second complaint on nearly identical facts can only be considered in exceptional circumstances.
In conclusion, Sections 200-203 of the Criminal Procedure Code empower magistrates to carefully examine and assess complaints. Their objective is to ensure the legitimacy of complaints, prevent false accusations, and safeguard innocent individuals from legal harassment. These provisions establish a structured process for handling complaints, allowing for the issuance of legal process, conducting inquiries, or directing police investigations as warranted. Dismissal of complaints is possible if there are insufficient grounds, with recorded reasons. It’s essential to understand that dismissal is neither discharge nor acquittal, and subsequent complaints are permissible only in exceptional circumstances. These sections uphold fairness, transparency, and the integrity of the legal system.