For the First Time, Access First Information Reports (FIRs) Online
The SC has directed Police of all states and UTs to make FIRs available online within 24 hours of its filing.
The Supreme Court has ordered states and Union Territories to make First Information Reports (FIRs) available online, within 24 hours of their filing in police stations. These will need to be uploaded on police or other government websites.
A writ petition was submitted by the Youth Bar Association of India earlier this year seeking issuing of such a directive to the Union Government. The idea was to attain greater transparency in police and to give the accused the right to information.
Where liberty of a person is at stake and the criminal law is set in motion, the accused should have all the information.Bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice C Nagappan
Highlights of the Directive
- Police of all states and Union territories are required to upload all FIRs to a police or government website, within 24 hours of their registration in a police station.
- Certain cases are exempt from this rule such as those which entail insurgency, child abuse, sexual offences and terrorism to ensure privacy and preserve national interest.
- The decision to not post the FIRs in such cases would be taken by a police officer not below the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police or the District Magistrate, either of whom would have to communicate the decision to the jurisdictional magistrate.
- In case of complaint against such non-publication of FIRs, the Superintendent of Police in rural areas and Police Commissioner in metros, will form a committee of three officers, which will decide on the complaint in three weeks.
- In areas where Internet access is limited, the Bench extended the deadline for publishing the FIR on websites to 48 hours, which can still further be stretched to a maximum of 72 hours. Accused persons cannot take advantage of delay in uploading of FIRs and seek anticipatory bail on that ground.
- The Delhi HC in its judgement on 6 December 2010, had upheld the right of the accused to get copies of FIRs even before the local magistrate ordered the police to do so under Section 207 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Is the FIR a Public Document?
Technically, an FIR is not a a public document. According to law, a copy of the FIR has to be shared with the complainant. Speaking with The Quint, MN Singh, former chief of the Mumbai Police said:
As per law, if a person registers a complaint with the police, the the crime is a cognisable in nature, the police are bound to register an FIR. A copy of the FIR is to be shared solely with the complainant. Only when the case gets chargesheeted is the accused made known of the charges and nature of FIR.MN Singh, Former Commissioner, Mumbai Police
According to practice and rule, if one seeks to get a copy of the FIR in any case, a RTI needs to be filed and proper reasoning put in place. Putting an FIR out in the public domain by uploading it online bypasses all those procedural routines.
An online document will always have less evidentiary value than a government ratified document. A lot of government records are public, but there are procedures of accessing them. Even after the FIRs will be available online, one cannot use them as authenticated documents. Also, an accused has the right to know what the charges against him/her are.Dushyant Arora, lawyer, Supreme Court
Implications of Putting FIRs Online
Former Director General of Police and Chief of Border Security Force Rakesh Khanna is a pioneer advocate of police reforms. For him, making the FIR available to the public will infringe on the privacy of the complainant and the accused.
The SC has made exceptions, like cases of terrorism, sexual abuse and insurgency. But what makes you think that state security is only at risk in these cases? There are so many cases where criminal gangs are involved, homicide cases. Also, even if its a feud between two brothers over property, why make those details available to everyone?Rakesh Khanna, Former DGP, Chief of Border Security Force
“You see, the accused becomes an unintended beneficiary in this case, but that’s part of a larger, more welcome change,” Singh opines.
What About Infrastructure?
Still, concerns about proper infrastructure loom large. According to Khanna, a lot of police stations across the country still lack basic amenities. Now to ask them of filing FIRs online will require computers, internet access and proper training. Khanna thinks that it’s a stretch to ask for online filing when there are stations without wireless sets.
Even Singh told us that sometimes lack of stationary, which the government is supposed to provide, leads to policemen not to give out a copy of the FIR to the complainant.
Hence, in such situations, an order like this might just push towards upgrading and modernising the police force in the country.
And hopefully give us more internet savvy cops, and a more transparent and effective police system.
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