Fair Investigations: Scope for Applications by Accused

The Supreme Court has recognised that the right to a fair investigation is guaranteed to an accused person. The judgments below are illustrative of some ways in which this can apply during the stage of an investigation.

Youth Bar Association of India v. Union of India, (2016) 9 SCC 473 [Supreme Court of India, 2 Judge Bench]

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The Supreme Court held that an accused is entitled to a copy of the FIR before the stage of disclosure arises under Section 207 of the Cr.P.C. Towards this, the person can make an application seeking a copy before the concerned police station or court, and she must be supplied with a copy of the FIR within 24 hours (if from police) and within 2 working days (if from court). The Court also directed all state police agencies to upload FIRs online. At the same time, it recognised exceptions if an officer of the level of a Deputy Superintendent of Police decided that a specific FIR was “sensitive” (as it is illustratively explained in the judgment). For such cases, disclosure of the FIR becomes an issue of official discretion, and the police were directed to constitute a committee to handle requests for sharing the FIR which had been initially deemed “sensitive”.

Sakiri Vasu v. State of U.P. & Ors., (2008) 2 SCC 209 [Supreme Court of India, 2 Judge Bench]

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A complainant was aggrieved by what he perceived as being an unfair investigation into the case of his son’s death, and sought the matter be investigated by the CBI. While the petition was disposed off without transferring the matter to the CBI but passing certain directions for a redressal of the complainant’s grievances, the Supreme Court made important observations regarding the role of the magistrate during an investigation.

It was held that a magistrate can pass directions to ensure that a “proper investigation” is made, and that magistrates had “all such powers which are necessary to ensure that a proper investigation is made” which include “monitoring” an investigation. The source of this power was found in Section 156(3), Cr.P.C. Thus, the Court held that rather than move superior courts, aggrieved persons should first file applications under Section 156(3) before a magistrate seeking redressal of their grievances.

Mohan Lal v. State of Punjab, AIR 2018 SC 3853 [Supreme Court of India, 3 Judge Bench], & Varinder Kumar v. State of Himachal Pradesh, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 170 [Supreme Court of India, 3 Judge Bench],

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In Mohan Lal, the Supreme Court held that if the police officer was the informant in a case, then the same officer could not continue to investigate the matter as well, and in all such cases the investigation and subsequent prosecution would stand vitiated. Thus, for instance, where police officers are part of raiding parties in drug busts etc., the same officers were prohibited from continuing to investigate the case further.

The Court held that the possibility of real likelihood of bias existing on part of that police officer could not be excluded, and the right to fair investigations demanded that these be conducted in an impartial and unbiased manner. Wherever it could be shown that the same officer continued to investigate the case, the Supreme Court held that in all such cases the subsequent prosecution would be tainted by bias and liable to be set aside.

In Varinder Kumar, the Court clarified that the impact of Mohan Lal was prospective in nature; thus, accused persons could not seek a quashing of existing cases if the same police officer who was the informant had continued as the investigating officer.

Vinubhai Haribhai Malaviya & Ors. v. State of Gujarat & Anr., 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1346 [Supreme Court of India, 3 Judge Bench]

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Two rival factions had filed cases against each other. The police filed a chargesheet in the case against the appellant’s faction, who were summoned to court. However, at this stage, the appellant’s moved applications seeking inquiries into aspects of the case that had not been considered by the police as yet, which they argued would support their innocence and confirm the guilt of the other faction. Since the applications were moved after the investigation had concluded and the accused had been summoned, the courts below had dismissed them as being not maintainable.

The appellants challenged these orders before the Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court decisions. It held that courts had the power to order a further investigation if the circumstances so arose, up till the time charges were framed in a case. The legal basis for this power was located in Sections 156(3) and Section 173(8) of the Cr.P.C. Thus, accused persons have a right to file applications under Section 156(3) read with Section 173(8) of the Cr.P.C., for orders directing police to investigate certain aspects of a case to ensure that no material remains hidden from a court and justice can be done.

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