New Delhi, September 29, 2023 – The Law Commission of India has proposed significant changes to allow the registration of electronic First Information Reports (e-FIRs) for a broader range of offenses. In its 282nd report titled ‘Amendment in Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for Enabling Online Registration of FIR,’ the commission, led by retired Karnataka High Court judge Ritu Raj Awasthi, recommends amendments to various laws to support e-FIR registration.

Expanded Scope of e-FIRs

The primary recommendation is to enable e-FIR registration for all cognizable offenses where the accused is unknown. Additionally, e-FIR registration should be permitted for all cognizable offenses carrying a maximum punishment of up to three years, even if the identity of the accused is known. These changes are in line with India’s Digital India mission and National e-Governance Plan.

Safeguarding Against Wrongful Arrests

To ensure the presumption of innocence and reasonable investigations before arrests, the commission suggests limiting e-FIR registration to less severe offenses, with maximum punishments of up to three years. This approach aims to protect against wrongful arrests and police abuse.

Exceptions and State Discretion

The report acknowledges that e-FIR registration may not apply to all offenses, especially those involving matrimonial disputes, commercial matters, medical negligence, corruption, or cases with significant delays in reporting. The Supreme Court’s precedent, including the Lalita Kumari v. State of Uttar Pradesh case, has mandated preliminary inquiries in such cases. However, the commission grants states the flexibility to expand the list of offenses eligible for e-FIR registration based on their effectiveness in implementing the system.

Historical Background

The Law Commission’s recommendations stem from a comprehensive consultation process initiated in July 2018, following a request from the Ministry of Home Affairs. The previous law commission had solicited opinions from judicial officers and received overwhelming support for amending Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code to accommodate e-FIRs. Consultations with police officers from various states and stakeholders, including the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), were also instrumental in shaping the report.

Enhancing Access to Justice

The Law Commission emphasizes that allowing all citizens unhindered and equal access to the criminal justice system through e-FIRs is essential. This initiative aligns with Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, ensuring equality before the law and equal protection of the law. By making the process of FIR registration simpler and more accessible, the commission aims to improve transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the criminal justice system.

Benefits of Online FIR Filing

The report highlights the potential advantages of online FIR filing, especially in areas where visiting a police station might be challenging due to security or infrastructural issues. It addresses concerns about police officers’ reluctance to file FIRs for minor offenses and the challenges posed by a low police-to-public ratio.

The commission envisions a citizen-friendly, transparent, accountable, and efficient police force by automating processes through effective Information and Communication Technology (ICT) use.

Future Implementation

The commission proposes forwarding all e-FIRs to the court by linking police websites with the e-courts portal. Currently, seven states, including Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, along with the National Capital Territory of Delhi, have developed mechanisms for limited e-FIR registration, mainly for vehicle or property theft and lost articles like wallets or documents.

These recommendations signal a significant step toward a more accessible and efficient criminal justice system in India, aligning with the nation’s digital transformation efforts.

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