Justice Of Peace Cannot Conduct Full-Fledged Investigations: SC

The top court observes that the judicial officer has no right to assume the role of an investigating agency or a prosecutor

Justice Of Peace Cannot Conduct Full-Fledged Investigations: SC

The Supreme Court has observed that under Section 22-A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), a Justice of Peace (a judicial officer) cannot conduct full-fledged investigations prior to filing an FIR.

"If the Justice of Peace will assume and undertake a full-fledged investigation and enquiry before the registration of FIR, then every person will have to first approach the Justice of Peace for scrutiny of his complaint, and only after clearance will his FIR be registered, which is beyond the comprehension, prudence, and intention of the legislature," observed Supreme Court's Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar while hearing a case about registering FIRs on the directions of the Additional District and Sessions Judge Ghotki/Justice of Peace.

The case landed in the top appellate court after Syed Qamber Ali Shah challenged a decision by the Sindh High Court (SHC), which had set aside orders passed by the Justice of Peace in question.

The top court said that it is not the function of the Justice of Peace to punctiliously or assiduously scrutinise the case or to render any findings on merits.

The judgment further said that the Justice of Peace's jurisdiction is to ensure whether, from the facts narrated in the application, any cognisable case is made out or not. If a case is of cognisable offence, then the Justice of Peace can obviously issue directions that the complainant's statement be recorded under Section 154, the top court said. The court further said that the Justice of Peace's powers are limited to aiding and assisting in the administration of the criminal justice system.

"He has no right to assume the role of an investigating agency or a prosecutor but has been conferred the role of vigilance to redress the grievance of those complainants who have been refused by the police officials to register their reports," the top court observed.

"Minute examination of a case and conducting a fact-finding exercise is not

included in the functions of a Justice of Peace, but he is saddled with a sense of duty to redress the grievance of the complainant who is aggrieved by the refusal of a Police Officer to register his report," it added.

"At whatever time an Officer Incharge of a police station receives some information about the commission of an offence, he is expected first to find out whether the offence disclosed falls into the category of cognisable offences or non-cognisable offences."

"There is no provision in any law, including Section 154 or 155 of the CrPC, which authorises an Officer Incharge of a Police Station to hold any enquiry to assess the correctness or falsity of the information before complying with the command of the said provisions."

The top court has further observed that incharge of police station is obligated to reproduce the same in writing, notwithstanding the fact whether such information is true or otherwise.

"The condition precedent for recording an FIR is that it should convey the information of an offence and that too a cognisable one," the top court observed. (Cognisable offences are serious crimes like murder or rape, where the police can take immediate action without a warrant. They can arrest the accused and initiate an investigation without court approval. On the other hand, non-cognisable offences (such as forgery or assault) require court approval before any police action. These offences are less severe and fall under the first schedule of the Indian Penal Code. In summary, cognisable offences allow immediate police intervention. In contrast, non-cognisable offences need court approval before any action can be taken.)

"The remedy of filing a direct complaint cannot measure or match up to the mechanism provided under Section 154 of CrPC, in which the Officer Incharge of a Police Station is duty bound to record the statement and register the FIR if a cognisable offence is made out. The statutory duty casts upon the officer of a police station to enter information regarding the cognisable offence first and then the investigation comes later in order to gather evidence and other relevant material to prosecute the identified culprits," the court held.

"No doubt, an Investigating Officer plays a crucial role in the administration of the criminal justice system and the constituent of the investigation report and its worth keeps hold of plenteous value and repercussions on the outcome of any criminal case, but tainted investigations can become an acute obstacle in the administration of justice."

It further said that investigative activities serve a multitude of purposes, adding that it is a duty of the Officer Incharge of Police Stations to ensure that the Investigating Officer follows the provisions of law conscientiously.

"In case of declining the registration of FIR or recording the statement, the aggrieved person obviously has a right to approach under Section 22-A, CrPC and file any such application, and the Justice of Peace is obligated to examine it and, after hearing the parties, pass an appropriate order."

The top court subsequently set aside the high court's judgement relating to the order passed by the Justice of Peace in Ghotki.

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain