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Cognizance =  Old French "conoisance", based on Latin "cognoscere"


While by dictionary meaning  = 'taking note of', 'taking account of', 'to know about','to gain knowledge about', 'awareness about certain things' etc.  in law, the common understanding of the term 'cognizance' is "taking judicial notice by a court of law, possessing jurisdiction, on a cause or matter presented before it so as to decide whether there is any basis for initiating proceedings and determination of the cause or matter 'judicially'". Thus, legal sense of taking judicial notice by a court of law or a Magistrate is altogether different from the view and idea a layman has for it; however, a broad and general comprehension is 'judicial notice by a court of law on a crime which, according to such court, has been committed against the complainant, to take further action if facts and circumstances so warrant'.


"Taking cognizance does not involve any formal action or indeed action of any kind but occurs as soon as a Magistrate as such applies his mind to the suspected commission of offence".Regarding the procedure involved in taking cognizance, to start with, there must be application of judicial mind to the materials, oral and documentary as well as other information submitted and apprised of. The litmus test of taking cognizance, whether it be relating to an offence on a complaint, or on a police report, or upon information of a person other than a police officer, is making a thorough assessment of the allegations by coming into grip with the facts presented and bringing into focus the law on the subject and applying the facts to the law and thereafter arriving at a conclusion by a process of reasoning and evidencing that all relevant facts have been taken note of and properly analysed in the light of the law applicable. An abridged and formulaic reproduction of facts to the exclusion of relevant aspects involved from the focus of mind would undoubtedly result in decision without application of mind, for, informed reasoning is the heart of the matter. While exercising discretion, with the intelligible differentia and by weighing the cause in judicial scales having regard to the facts and circumstances peculiar to each single case, courts must carefully decide and cautiously examine as to whether the complaint filed is an outcome of personal vendetta or outburst of animosity/enmity or originated from evil impact of fickle mind so as to wreak vengeance against the opponent, else, malicious prosecutions would be rampant putting at peril the valuable rights and liberties of citizens through courts themselves. Therefore, if a litigant or a citizen knocks at the doors of justice with a grievance, a Judicial Officer must apply judicial mind coupled with discretion and such exercise should not be arbitrary, capricious, whimsical, fanciful and casual, because just and right decisions cannot be taken by an ordinary individual but by a person with legal acumen, experience, knowledge and intelligence on the application of law with reference to the facts of a given case. There may be variety of grievances/cases and every grievance cannot be received as a matter of routine, and the Judicial Officer must be able to classify amongst the cases so as to decide whether a particular case is fit for taking cognizance or not. cognizance can be taken only if the allegations and disputes attract the Penal Provisions in the enactment.


"Taking cognizance"of a case relating to an alleged offence is different from "cognizable case". A Police Officer can register an FIR only if a cognizable offence is made out and he cannot investigate into a non-cognizable offence without seeking permission from the court. Both the terms seem to sound similar but they stand for a meaning and context different from each other.


Though the word 'cognizance' is not defined in the Code of Criminal Procedure (in short 'Code'), 'cognizable offence' is defined in Section 2 (c) of the Code, which reads as follows:-


"Cognizable offence means an offence for which, and 'cognizable case' means a case in which a police officer may, in accordance with the First schedule or under any other law for the time being in force, arrest without warrant ", and Section 2(l) defines 'non-cognizable offence' as follows:-


"Non-Cognizable offence means an offence for which and 'non cognizable case' means a case in which a police officer has no authority to arrest without warrant."


Therefore, one must be clear about the application of the Code with reference to "taking cognizance" and distinction between "cognizable" and "non-cognizable" offences. Once cognizance is taken, process may have to be issued against the person, who is alleged to have committed the offence and the procedure adumbrated must necessarily follow. For better analysis of the scope of cognizance and the consequences arising therefrom, it  is worthwhile to highlight the scheme of relevant provisions in the Code and the case laws touching the same.


Chapter XIV of the Code under the caption 'Conditions requisite for initiation of proceedings' employs the word 'cognizance' and the very first Section in the said Chapter viz., Section 190, outlines as to how cognizance of offences will be taken by a magistrate of an offence on a complaint, or on a police report or upon information of a person other than a police officer. Section 191 empowers the Chief Judicial Magistrate for transfer of a case taken on file suo motu by a Judicial Magistrate concerned since the Magistrate himself being a complainant, there may be scope for alleging prejudice or malice. By virtue of Section 192, a Chief Judicial Magistrate, who takes cognizance of an offence, by passing administrative order, transfer the case concerned to the file of any other Magistrate subordinate to him for inquiry or trial. Section 193 prohibits cognizance of any offence by a court of Sessions stepping into the shoes of the court having original jurisdiction except in cases where power is conferred by the statute while Section 194 empowers Sessions Courts for transfer of cases to the file of Additional and Assistant Sessions Judges. Section 195 deals with prosecution for contempt of lawful authority of public servants for offences against public justice and for offences relating to documents given in evidence; Section 196 pertains to offences against the State and for criminal conspiracy to commit the offence; and Sections 197, 198, 198-A and 199 relates to prosecution of Judges & public servants, prosecution for offences against marriage, offences under Section 498-A IPC and defamation respectively.


Chapter XV with the title 'Complaints to Magistrates' contain four sections viz., 200 to 203 regarding examination of complainant, procedure by Magistrate not competent to take cognizance of the case, postponement of issue of process and dismissal of complaint. Sections 204 to 208 at Chapter XVI with the caption 'Commencement of proceedings before Magistrates' deal with the subsequent proceedings that would follow after cognizance is taken. It must be taken note of, in cases where police report is submitted for taking cognizance, the Magistrate may resort to one of the three options: (i) he may accept the report and take cognizance of the offence and issue process; (ii) he may disagree with the report and drop the proceedings or (iii) he may direct further investigation under subsection (3) of Section 156 and require the police to make a further report. In a case where the report on the other hand states that, in the opinion of the police, no offence appears to have been committed, again, the Magistrate has three opinions viz., (a) he may accept the report and drop the proceedings; (b) he may disagree with the report and by holding that there is sufficient ground for proceeding further, take cognizance of the case and issue process or (c)he may direct further investigation to be made by the police under subsection 3 of Section 156. It is worthwhile to mention below certain case laws of the Hon'ble Apex Court wherein the scope and purview of the term 'cognizance' are vividly explained,


To conclude, there is no special charm or any magical formula in the expression 'taking cognizance' which merely means judicial application of the mind of the Magistrate to the facts mentioned in the complaint with a view to take further judicial action.


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