17 Nov 2010

Inquest Reports: The concept understood

The law of crimes requires a case to be built by the prosecution which puts the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. A number of procedural safeguards, therefore, are inbuilt in the run-up to the trial to ensure that none of the steps leading to determination of guilt of the accused are hushed up and rather the State machinery works in an efficient manner. Preparation of Inquest Reports is provided for under the Code of Criminal Procedure as a record of crime which even though not a substantive piece of evidence, is an important basis for determining the commission of the offence in as much as improper filing of inquest report can weaken the case of the prosecution.

In a recent decision [Brahm Swaroop v. State of U.P.] the Supreme Court explained the concept and the significance of Inquest Report in criminal trials in the following terms;
6. Undoubtedly, there are five blanks in the inquest report. The crime number and names of the accused have not been filled up. The column for filling up the penal provisions under which offences have been committed is blank. The time of incident and time of dispatch of the special report have not been mentioned. Therefore, Shri Tulsi has submitted that the FIR is ante-timed and there is manipulation in the case of the prosecution.
7. The whole purpose of preparing an inquest report under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter referred to as ‘Cr.P.C’) is to investigate into and draw up a report of the apparent cause of death, describing such wounds as may be found on the body of the deceased and stating as in what manner, or by what weapon or instrument such wounds appear to have been inflicted. For the purpose of holding the inquest it is neither necessary nor obligatory on the part of the Investigating Officer to investigate into or ascertain who were the persons responsible for the death. The object of the proceedings under Section 174 Cr.PC is merely to ascertain whether a person died under suspicious circumstances or met with an unnatural death and, if so, what was its apparent cause. The question regarding the details of how the deceased was assaulted or who assaulted him or under what circumstances he was assaulted is foreign to the ambit and scope of such proceedings i.e. the inquest report is not the statement of any person wherein all the names of the persons accused must be mentioned. Omissions in the inquest report are not sufficient to put the prosecution out of court. The basic purpose of holding an inquest is to report regarding the apparent cause of death, namely, whether it is suicidal, homicidal, accidental or by some machinery etc. It is, therefore, not necessary to enter all the details of the overt acts in the inquest report. Evidence of eyewitnesses can not be discarded if their names do not figure in the inquest report prepared at the earliest point of time. The inquest report cannot be treated as substantive evidence but may be utilised for contradicting the witnesses of inquest. (See Podda Narayana & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1975 SC 1252; Khujji v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1991 SC 1853; George & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Anr., (1998) 4 SCC 605; Shaikh Ayub v. State of Maharashtra, (1998) 9 SCC 521; Suresh Rai v. State of Bihar, (2000) 4 SCC 84; Amar Singh v. Balwinder Singh & Ors., (2003) 2 SCC 518; Radha Mohan Singh alias Lal Sahab & Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh, (2006) 2 SCC 450; and Aqeel Ahmad v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 2009 SC 1271).
8. In Radha Mohan Singh (supra), a three judge bench of this Court held:
“No argument on the basis of an alleged discrepancy, overwriting, omission or contradiction in the inquest report can be entertained unless the attention of the author thereof is drawn to the said fact and he is given an opportunity to explain when he is examined as a witness in court.”
9. Even where, the attention of the author of the inquest is drawn to the alleged discrepancy, overwriting, omission or contradiction in the inquest report and the author in his deposition has also admitted that through a mistake he omitted to mention the crime number in the inquest report, this Court has held that just because the author of the report had not been diligent did not mean that reliable and clinching evidence adduced by the eyewitnesses should be discarded by the Court. (Vide: Dr. Krishna Pal & Anr. v. State of Uttar Pradesh, (1996) 7 SCC 194).
10. In view of the law referred to hereinabove it cannot be held that any omission or discrepancy in the inquest is fatal to the prosecution’s case and such omissions would necessarily lead to the inference that FIR is ante-timed. ...

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