Consequences of Defects in Investigation by Investigation Officer
Introduction to the Issue
The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 per se does not contain any provisions regarding omissions or lapses or irregularities in investigation by the Investigation Officers. The omission of any such direct provision in the code is perhaps due to the belief that defects in investigation have a role to play in appreciation of evidence by courts. However, intentional omissions by the investigation officer may affect the outcome of the case and there being no penal provisions, nobody is punished. Another question that has to be resolved is whether a fault in an investigation results in the acquittal of the accused upon upholding the principle of criminal law ‘benefit of doubt’?
Conflict of Opinion
In Pulukuri Kottaya v. King Emperor, it was laid down that breach of Section 172 does not amount to any illegality and the same does not vitiate the trial. However, in Niranjan Singh and Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the apex court urged that a failure to comply with the police regulations by the investigating officer amounted to infraction of Rule of Law. Following this opinion, the benefit of doubt shall be given to the accused resulting in the acquittal. However this view in Niranjan Singh was not followed later as it was observed to be bad in law.
The Purposive Rule of Interpretation was adopted wherein the intention of the legislature while enacting the Code was viewed. Investigation is neither an inquiry nor a part of the trial before the court, nor is there any provision regarding omissions or irregularities by an investigating officer. Therefore, investigation should not have an effect on the proceedings of an inquiry or a trial. Even omissions in investigation is a subset of irregularities and it is a well-recognized rule even in civil law that mere irregularities cannot effect the fate of the trial and grant a benefit to the accused.
Consequences of Giving benefit of Faulty Investigation to the Accused
There can be severe consequences if the benefit is given to the accused owing to faulty investigation due to mere irregularities or omissions by the Investigating Officer. At the outset it can be stated that error, illegality or defect in investigation cannot have any impact unless miscarriage of justice is brought about or serious prejudice is caused to the accused.The interest of justice demands that such acts or omissions of the officers of the prosecution should not be taken in favour of the accused, for that would amount to giving premium for the wrongs of the prosecution designedly committed to favour the appellant.
If the benefit of the irregular procedure or any lapse by the investigation officer is given to the accused, it would lead to the conclusion that investigating officer is responsible deciding the outcome of any case which could lead to presumption of non-application of mind and arbitrariness in the decision. The evidence should be seen independent of the impact of the faulty investigation. In any case where there are any lapses in the investigation, the prosecution story shall be examined independently of such omission by the investigating agency failing which would lead to the people losing confidence not only in the law enforcing agency but also in the administration of justice.
The contaminated conduct of officials should not stand in the way of evaluating the evidence by the courts, otherwise the designed mischief would be perpetuated and justice would be denied to the complainant party.
In cases of defective investigation the court has to be circumspect in evaluating the evidence but it would not be right in acquitting an accused person solely on account of the defect; to do so would tantamount to playing into the hands of the investigating officer if the investigation is designedly defective. It has been further emphasized that acquitting an accused solely on the above ground would amount to adding insult to the injury.
Investigation cannot be the sole ground to determine the fate of the case
It shall be ensured that a judicial decision is never based solely on the investigation as that would lead to the investigating officers ruling the roost. The Courts do not merely discharge the function to ensure that no innocent man is punished, but also that a guilty man does not escape. Criminal Justice should not be made a casualty for the wrongs committed by the investigating officers in the case.The court must have predominance and pre-eminence in criminal trials over the action taken by the investigation officers. The investigating officer is not obliged to anticipate all possible defenses and investigate in that angle.Therefore, any omission on the part of the investigating officer cannot go against the prosecution.
A well noted observation has been made by the apex court in State of West Bengal v. Mir Mohammad Omarwherein it has been fairly pointed out the practical difficulties in a country like India faced by the officers to conduct their investigation without leaving any scope of defects. There exist many inherent factors leading to defects in the investigation such as time constraints of the police officers, ill equipped machinery, etc. Therefore, the benefit shall not be given to the accused for any defect or loophole in the investigation.
Where contradictions and variations are of a serious nature, which apparently or impliedly are destructive of the substantive case sought to be proved by the prosecution, they may provide an advantage to the accused. The Courts, normally, look at expert evidence with a greater sense of acceptability, but it is equally true that the courts are not absolutely guided by the report of the experts, especially if such reports are perfunctory, unsustainable and are the result of a deliberate attempt to misdirect the prosecution.
There are several cases owing to corrupt practices prevalent in the country or the process of investigation being handed over to incompetent officers that even though the officers are aware about the proper procedure, they intentionally commit illegal acts or omit to follow proper procedure prescribed by the Code.
The aim of an investigation being the discovery of truth, it is not only illegal but highly unethical for a law enforcement officer to resort to concoction, padding and fabrication of evidence - all serious offences under the law - even to bring a known predator to justice. The aim of an investigating officer is "to collect evidence" and not to create it.
The ambit of intentional omission by investigation officer and its effect on the case was recently discussed by the apex court in Jai Prakash v. State of Uttar Pradesh-“If the Investigating Officer has deliberately omitted to do what he ought to have done in the interest of justice, it means that such acts or omissions of Investigating Officer should not be taken in favour of the Accused.”
A penal provision for punishment against intentional omissions: There may be instances when there is an intentional lapse or intentional omission by the investigation officer as discussed in the above segment and such lapse or such omission is of such a nature that it becomes impossible to support prosecution’s case. Although the Code does not prescribe any stringent actions to be taken against the officer, the courts have taken actions against several irresponsible officers. For instance in the case of Gajoo v. State of Uttarakhand, the apex court identified that there was a serious lapse in the investigation and directed the Director General of Police of the state to take disciplinary action against the officer whether he is in service or has since retired, for such serious lapse in conducting investigation.
Wide protection is given to public officers under Section 197 of Cr P.C wherein they cannot be prosecuted. There has to be a reasonable nexus between the act and the authority to do that act in order to claim the exception under this provision. Intentional omissions shall not be covered under ‘acts under authority’; hence no exemption shall be given. A proviso is recommended to be added to the section to prosecute public officers if their acts have no nexus to their authority.
On the completion of the investigation in a criminal case, the prosecuting agency should apply its independent mind, and require all shortcomings to be rectified. It should also be ensured, that the evidence gathered during investigation is truly and faithfully utilized, by confirming that all relevant witnesses and materials for proving the charges are conscientiously presented during the trial of a case. Only persons against whom there is sufficient evidence, will have to suffer the rigors of criminal prosecution. By following the above procedure, in most criminal prosecutions, the concerned agencies will be able to successfully establish the guilt of the accused.
Being the foundation stone of the prosecution, the investigating officer must be trained to adopt proper techniques of investigation and scientific temper must be inculcated in them. The investigation must be conducted in an unbiased manner and investigation must be with objectivity and dispassionate approach to men and matters and the investigating officer must make a truthful presentation of the materials collected.
Footnotes: PulukuriKottaya v. King Emperor A.I.R. 1947 P.C. 67 (India). The Code of Criminal Procedure § 172 (1973). Niranjan Singh and Ors.v. State of Uttar Pradesh, A.I.R. 1957 S.C. 142 (India). Union of India v. Prakash P. Hinduja, A.I.R. 2003 S.C. 2612 (India). Ram BihariYadav v. State of Bihar, A.I.R. 1998 S.C. 1850 (India).  Mark Findlay, The Challenge for Asian Jurisdiction in the Development of International Criminal Jusitce, Singapore Journal of Legal Studies, 37-57(2010),https://doaj.org/article/11139026a33d40fc8c516d72eb35958a#0 ParasYadav v. State of Bihar, A.I.R. 1999 S.C. 644 (India). Karnel Singh v. State of MP, A.I.R. 1995 S.C. 2472 (India). State of Karnataka v. K. Yarappa Reddy, (2000) 1 S.C.C. 61 (India). V.K. Mishra and Anr.v. State of Uttarakhand and Anr., (2015) 9 S.C.C. 588 (India). State of West Bengal v. Mir Mohammad Omar, A.I.R. 2000 S.C. 2988 (India). Jai Prakash v. State of Uttar Pradesh, A.I.R. 2020 S.C. 280 (India). Gajoo v. State of Uttarakhand, (2012) 9 S.C.C. 532 (India). The Code of Criminal Procedure § 197 (1973). P.P. Unikrishnan v. PuttiyottilAlikutty, A.I.R. 2000 S.C. 2952 (India). State of Gujarat v. Kishanbhai, (2014) 5 S.C.C. 108 (India). Baljnder Kaur v. State of Punjab, (2015) 2 S.C.C. 629 (India).
2nd Year, B.A.LL.B.,
Symbiosis Law School, Pune.
(Images used for representational purpose only.)