What is a Look-Out Circular, and who can issue and when can it be issued? Does LOC lead to arrest? Whether anticipatory bail can be granted by Competent Court even if LOC was issued?
Look Out Circular or LOC is nowhere defined in Criminal Procedure Code, although, in common parlance, LOC means a document i.e. letter used by authorities to check, prevent and monitor effectively the entry or exit of persons wanted by the law enforcement agencies like Ministry of External Affairs, Customs and Income Tax Department, CBI, Police, Enforcement Directorate etc. In short, an LOC is a circular issued by authorities to ensure that a person wanted in a criminal case does not flee the country. Normally, an LOC can be issued when a person is absconding in a particular case registered against him, and there is fear he may leave the country. In certain cases, the police can also approach a court seeking restriction of a person’s movement outside the country, when that person is a suspect in a case and there is fear he may not joint the investigation at a later stage.
That LOCs can be of different types. As per the proforma for the issue of LOC, it has various options from just informing the government that the person against whom the LOC has been issued is leaving the country, to seizing their travel documents and sending it to the agency, to preventing the person from entering the country, informing investigating agencies. The highest level of LOC involves handing over the person to the local police which generally leads to an arrest.
The basic substantive guidelines regarding the publication of the LOCs in relation to Indian citizens issued by the MHA enunciate the following four cardinal principles: The request for opening of LOC is required to be made to all immigration Checkposts in the country in the Official Format prescribed by the MHA. The request for opening of LOC must invariably be issued with the approval of an officer not below the rank of Deputy Secretary to the Government of India/Joint secretary in the State Government/Superintendent of Police concerned at the district level. The originating agency must ensure that complete identifying personal particulars of the person, in respect of whom the LOC is to be opened, are clearly mentioned in the prescribed proforma. The LOC will not be opened for less than three identity parameters other than name of the subject. An LOC is valid for a period of one year. However, in case the originating agency wants to extend the validity beyond one year it can ask for the extension before the expiry of the one year period. If no request is made for the extension of the LOC within the stipulated period of one year, the Immigration Officer concerned is authorized to suspend the LOC.
Look out circular sometimes may issued without following the guidelines mentioned in the Official Memorendum in the references. The affected person may approach the Hon'ble Human right commission or higher courts and demand compensation for loss and suffering if any.
Recourse to LOC can be taken by investigating agency in cognizable offences under IPC or other penal laws, where the accused was deliberately evading arrest or not appearing in the trial court despite NBWs and other coercive measures and there was likelihood of the accused leaving the country to evade trial/arrest.
The Investigating Officer shall make a written request for LOC to the officer as notified by the circular of Ministry of Home Affairs, giving details & reasons for seeking LOC. The competent officer alone shall give directions for opening LOC by passing an order in this respect.
The person against whom LOC is issued must join investigation by appearing before I.O. Or should surrender before the court concerned or should satisfy the court that LOC was wrongly issued against him. He may also approach the officer who ordered issuance of LOC & explain that LOC was wrongly issued against him. LOC can be withdrawn by the authority that issued and can also be rescinded by the trial Court where case is pending or having jurisdiction over concerned police station on an application by the person concerned.
LOC is a coercive measure to make a person surrender to the investigating agency or Court of law. The subordinate courts' jurisdiction in affirming or cancelling LOC is commensurate with the jurisdiction of cancellation of NBWs or affirming NBWs.
Question was raised before Hon’ble Supreme Court as to whether Anticipatory bail can be granted if look out circular was issued? Supreme Court set aside the order of High Court then held “As already submitted a person against whom look out circular has been issued cannot invoke the jurisdiction available under Section 438 of Cr.P.C. Since both these aspects were not brought to the notice of this Court, anticipatory bail granted to the petitioner by this Court on 16.05.2018 in Crl.O.P.(MD).No.8155 of 2018 stands cancelled”. Accused challenged the cancellation of anticipatory bail before the Supreme Court. That Hon’ble Supreme Court observed and held “Given the reasoning of the impugned judgment, we are of the view that anticipatory bail that was granted earlier ought not to have been cancelled. Accordingly, no coercive steps can be taken against the petitioner during the period of the trial. The Special Leave Petition stands disposed of accordingly”. (emphasis supplied).