Police to Enquire on Death u/s. 174 Cr.P.C. & Scope of Inquest Report

Section 174 of the Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides for Inquest Report by Police and which read as follows:

174. Police to enquire and report on suicide, etc.

(1) When the officer in charge of a police station or some other police officer specially empowered by the State Government in that behalf receives information that a person has committed suicide, or has been killed by another or by an animal or by machinery or by an accident, or has died under circumstances raising a reasonable suspicion that some other person has committed an offence, he shall immediately give intimation thereof to the nearest Executive Magistrate empowered to hold inquests, and, unless otherwise directed by any rule prescribed by the State Government, or by any general or special order of the District or Sub- divisional Magistrate, shall proceed to the place where the body of such deceased person is, and there, in the presence of two’ or more respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood, shall make an investigation, and draw up a report of the apparent cause of death, describing such wounds, fractures, bruises, and other marks of injury as may be found on the body, and stating in what manner, or by what weapon or instrument (if any); such marks appear to have been inflicted.

(2) The report shall be signed by such police officer and other persons, or by so many of them as concur therein, and shall be forthwith forwarded to the District Magistrate or the Sub- divisional Magistrate.

(3) When-

(i) the case involves suicide by a woman within seven years of her marriage; or

(ii) the case relates to the death of a woman within seven years of her marriage in any circumstances raising a reasonable suspicion that some other person committed an offence in relation to such woman; or

(iii) the case relates to the death of a woman within seven years of her marriage and any relative of the woman has made a request in this behalf; or

(iv) there is any doubt regarding the cause of death; or

(v) the police officer for any other reason considers it expedient so to do,

he shall subject to such rules as the State Government may prescribe in this behalf, forward the body, with a view to its being examined, to the nearest Civil Surgeon, or other qualified medical man appointed in this behalf by the State Government, if the state of the weather and the distance admit of its being so forwarded without risk of such putrefaction on the road as would render such examination useless.

(4) The following Magistrates are empowered to hold inquests, namely, any District Magistrate or Sub- divisional Magistrate and any other Executive Magistrate specially empowered in this behalf by the State Government or the District Magistrate.

Scope of ‘Inquiry’ under Section 174 of the Code

The proceedings under Section 174 have a very limited scope. The object of the proceedings is merely to ascertain whether a person has died under suspicious circumstances or an unnatural death and if so what is the apparent cause of the death.

Inquest Report

The question regarding the details as to how the deceased was assaulted or who assaulted him or under what circumstances he was assaulted is foreign to the ambit and scope of the proceedings under Section 174 of the Code. Neither in practice nor in law was it necessary for the police to mention those details in the inquest report. It is, therefore, not necessary to enter all the details of the overt acts in the inquest report.

The procedure under Section 174 is for the purpose of discovering the cause of death, and the evidence taken was very short. When the body cannot be found or has been buried, there can be no investigation under Section 174. This section is intended to apply to cases in which an inquest is necessary.

The proceedings under this Section should be kept more distinct from the proceedings taken on the complaint.

Whereas the starting point of the powers of police was changed from the power of the officer in charge of a police station to investigate into a cognizable offence without the order of a Magistrate, to the reduction of the first information regarding commission of a cognizable offence, whether received orally or in writing, into writing.

As such, the objective of such placement of provisions was clear which was to ensure that the recording of the first information should be the starting point of any investigation by the police. The purpose of registering FIR is to set the machinery of criminal investigation into motion, which culminates with filing of the police report and only after registration of FIR, beginning of investigation in a case, collection of evidence during investigation and formation of the final opinion is the sequence which results in filing of a report under Section 173 of the Code.

In this view of the matter, Sections 174 and 175 of the Code afford a complete Code in itself for the purpose of “Inquiries” in cases of accidental or suspicious deaths and are entirely distinct from the “investigation” under Section 157 of the Code wherein if an officer in-charge of a police station has reason to suspect the commission of an offence which he is empowered to investigate, he shall proceed in person to the spot to investigate the facts and circumstances of the case.

Case Law Reference

1. George v. State of Kerala, (1998) 4 SCC 605

It has been held that the investigating officer is not obliged to investigate, at the stage of inquest, or to ascertain as to who were the assailants.

2. Suresh Rai and Others vs. State of Bihar, (2000) 4 SCC 84

3. Manoj Kumar Sharma Vs. State of Chhattisgarh [Supreme Court of India, 23-08-2016]