Move aimed at easing the process of filing cases; home ministry seeks Law Commission’s views on possibility of amending Section 154 of CrPC.
New Delhi: The central government has asked the Law Commission to study the feasibility of introducing “e-FIRs” or online FIRs across the country, a move that could go a long way in eliminating the tedious process of filing cases.
In a letter dated 5 July, 2018, the judicial cell of the home ministry has requested the law panel for its views on the possibility of amending Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) “for enabling online registration of FIR”.
The suggestion was first made during a conference of DGPs/IGPs held in January this year. “It has since been decided to request the Law Commission to consider the suggestion during the course of comprehensive review of criminal laws being carried out by them,” the letter says.
According to a senior official of the commission, the government is of the view that “citizens should be allowed to take advantage of the internet”.
“Why go all the way to file a complaint when it can be done online,” the official said.
“There are so many issues people face while registering FIRs…whether or not the police will register it; sometimes the accused can thwart the process if they are influential…All these problems will be taken care of with e-FIRs,” the official added.
What the commission will study
However, a potential problem with the idea, which the commission will seek to address in its report, will be of informant authentication and false complaints, the official said.
“Already so many false complaints are filed…What if someone files a rape complaint claiming to be so-and-so while such a person may not even exist?” the official asked.
“Even if the case is found to be false, it just takes up unnecessary time and tarnishes someone’s image,” he said.
“We want to make sure we protect the accused in false cases,” the he added.
While the commission’s research in the matter is still at a very nascent stage, it is exploring the possibility of linking the online registration process with some form of identity proof in order to eliminate fictitious complaints.
“It can be any identity proof, which can be scanned while registering the complaint,” a consultant with the commission said.
Further, the commission will also explore whether mobile and email OTPs can be used while filing such complaints in order to ascertain the identity and veracity of the complaint.
While the home ministry in its letter has not asked for bifurcation of offences for which online complaints can be filed, the commission is likely to refer to earlier related judicial pronouncements.
In the Youth Bar Association of India vs. Union of India case, for example, the Supreme Court had said that a copy of the FIR must be uploaded on the police or official state government website within a stipulated period of time, except in cases where the offence is of “sensitive” nature like rape, sexual harassment, insurgency, among others.
Further, the commission would refer to the Lalita Kumari vs. government of UP case, in which the top court issued a set of guidelines stating that it is mandatory to register FIRs under all circumstances with a few exceptions.
“It is unlikely that we will make a blanket recommendation to allow all FIRs to be registered online…We are primarily looking at cognisable offences, and may bifurcate them using judicial pronouncements in these two cases,” the consultant said.
Cognisable offences refer to those in which a police officer has the authority to make an arrest without a warrant and initiate an investigation without a court’s permission.
Consultations with stakeholders
The commission, which has already begun widespread consultations with various stakeholders, met with close to 40 DGPs and IGPs from across the country in the capital earlier this week to discuss the feasibility of such an amendment.
“Largely speaking, most officers were receptive to the idea of giving statutory force to online complaints,” the consultant said. “The officers did not see lack of infrastructure to be a problem.”
The commission is now set to meet officials from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) who will give a demonstration on how to register online complaints and eliminate false ones, among others.
The commission is also expected to meet lawyers and IT professionals in this regard.
“Once we develop some understanding on the issue after these consultations, we will invite public consultations on this issue,” the senior official of the commission said.
Online FIRs are already registered in some states like Delhi and UP through web portals. “These states have their own set of rules when it comes to registering e-FIRs…Delhi has been a frontrunner,” the consultant said.