- An inquest report is made primarily to investigate the causes of unnatural death and suspected dowry deaths.
- It contains only the first impression of the dead body.
- A magistrate is also empowered to ask for the preparation of an inquest report.
The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 is the law that provides a mechanism for all the procedures that must be followed for the administration of justice. It is the primary legislation for the administration of the substantive laws in India, such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and other criminal statutes.
The preparation of an inquest report under the Code of Criminal Procedure is done to create a record of crime as it forms a significant basis for ascertaining the commission of an offence.
A criminal investigation is a search for truth.This includes in its purview the right to know the correct cause of the death of any person.The meaning of inquest is to seek legal or judicial inquiry to determine certain facts.
An inquest report is made primarily to investigate the causes of unnatural death.When a crime is committed, it is an offence against the State. In the case of unnatural deaths, it is the duty of the State to ascertain the cause of death and take further measures. This is the purpose of an inquest report, to establish facts that can be used to apprehend and punish the offender.
CONTENTS OF REPORT
The report made by the police under Section 174 of the Code is not exhaustive in nature. It contains only the first impression of the dead body. The police officer conducting the investigation is responsible for the preparation of the report.
Details the report contains
- Apparent cause of death.
- Description of the wounds, fractures, bruises,or other marks of injury found on the dead body.
- The way marks appear to have been inflicted.
- The weapon or instrument which appears to have been used for such injuries.
In the case of Manohari & Ors. vs. The Dist. Superintendent of Police & Ors.(2018), the Madras High Court held that in relation to the unnatural deaths which are registered under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the police cannot shut the case merely by submitting a report to the Executive Magistrate. Whether the investigation yields results or not, the police are expected to file a Final Report under Section 173 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, before the Jurisdictional Magistrate.
WHY INQUIRE CASES OF UNNATURAL DEATH
If a person suffers naturaldeath, there lies no suspicion to the circumstances of their death. However, in the case of unnatural death, circumstances of death need to be explained and examined by the state and are burdened to identify the cause of death and if there lies a suspicion with respect to the cause of death, the state must take appropriate steps to punish the guilty.An obligation lies on the state to secure the health and life of every citizen of the country.
INQUEST REPORT AND POSTMORTEM REPORT
Inquest report and post-mortem report cannot be termed as basic or substantive evidence and any discrepancy occurring therein can neither be termed as fatal nor as a suspicious circumstance which would cause a benefit to the accused and the resultant dismissal of the prosecution case. Since a post-mortem report is conducted by an expert, whenever a discrepancy is present between the cause of death in the inquest report and postmortem report, the findings of an expert in the postmortem report would carry more weight than the opinion and findings of a layman given in inquest report.
ADMISSIBILITY AND EVIDENTIARY VALUE OF STATEMENTS
The witness statement recorded by the investigators during the inquest would be within the inhibition of Section 162 CrPC with some exceptions-
- The statement recorded under Section 174 CrPC cannot be used as a substantive piece of evidence.
- At most the statements can be used only as a previous statement to corroborate or contradict the person making it at the trial.As stated by Section 162 CrPC, only contradiction ispermitted, and corroboration is not allowed of those statements which are recorded during the investigation stage. Since Inquest is not an investigation the bar doesn’t apply, and the statements can be used for corroboration also.
- The statements contained in an inquest report,are admissible to the extent they relate to what the investigating officer himself saw and found from his/her Direct Observation, but any statement made therein based onhearsay would be hit by Section 162 CrPC. Unless the record is proved to be suspect or unreliable, perfunctory or dishonest, there is no reason to disbelieve such a statement made in the inquest report.
- Where the inquest report is signed by witnesses, the statements made in the inquest report are hit by Section 162 CrPC and therefore will be inadmissible in evidence, until and unless they are examined as witnesses at trial. However, Section 174 CrPC does not put a restriction on the powers of the police officers to obtain the signatures of the inhabitants in whose presence the inquiry was held and who concur with the report.
- The contents of the inquest report cannot be treated as evidence, but they can be investigated to test the veracity of the witnesses.
INQUEST OF MAGISTRATE
Section 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 deals with an inquiry made by the Magistrate into the cause of death.
If the case referred to is of the nature of these clauses or in any other case mentioned in Section 174(1) of the Code, then the Magistrate who is empowered to hold an inquiry into the cause of death shall have all the powers to do so. The Magistrate can hold such an inquiry instead of or in addition to the investigation conducted by the police officer.
The magistrate within whose jurisdictional area the offence has been committed is empowered to conduct the inquiry, in the following cases.
- Where any person has died or disappeared.
- When rape is alleged to have been committed on any woman.
- The inquiry being done on behalf of the Magistrate is held in addition to the inquiry or investigation being done by the police.
The Magistrate who holds such an inquiry is bound to record the evidence taken by him in connection therewith, according to the case.
Under Section 176(3) of the Code, in cases where the dead body has already been laid to rest, the Magistrate in order to discover the cause of the death can order for the body to be exhumed and examined.
Under Section 176(4) of the Code, the Magistrate who holds an inquiry under this section should, wherever possible, inform therelatives of the deceased person and is also bound to permit them to be present at the inquiry.
Under Section 176(5) of the Code, the Magistrate or the police officer who is conducting the inquiry or investigation is bound to send the body of the deceased for examination to an accessible civil surgeon or any other qualified medical person appointed by the State Government. If not practicable, then the reasons for not being able to do are to be recorded in writing.
Under Section 174 of the Code, the police are empowered to enquire and report on cases of unnatural death. The first clause of the provision states that when an officer-in-charge of a police station or some police officer who is empowered by the State Government receives information that:
- A person has committed suicide.
- A person has been murdered.
- A person has been killed by an animal.
- A person has been killed by machinery.
- A person has been killed by an accident.
- A person has died under circumstances which raise a reasonable suspicion that some other person has committed an offence.
In such cases, the police officer should immediately notify the nearest Executive Magistrate who is empowered to hold inquests. Further, he shall go to the place where the body of the deceased person is and in the presence of two or more residents of the neighborhood, such police officer shall conduct an investigation and prepare a report.
The statements of the witnesses that are to be recorded during the investigation are within the inhibition of Section 162 of the Code. These cannot be used as a substantive piece of evidence and can only be used to corroborate or contradict the person making it at the trial.
Under Section 174(2) of the Code, the report must be signed by the investigating police officer and other persons, including those who concur therein. This report is then sent forward to the District Magistrate or the Sub-Divisional Magistrate.
Under Section 174(3) of the Code, special circumstances relating to the death of a woman have been laid down.
In the cases where:
- Suicide has been committed by a woman within seven years of marriage.
- The death of a woman within seven years of marriage raises reasonable suspicion that some other person has committed an offence in relation to such a woman.
- The death of a woman within seven years of marriage and a relative of such a woman has made a request on this behalf.
- There is a doubt regarding the cause of death.
The police officer concerned for any other reasons considers it advisable to do so.In such situations, the officer shall forward the body to be examined to the nearest Civil Surgeon or other qualified medical personnel appointed by the State Government. This must be exercised in a prudent and careful manner.
Under Section 175 of the Code, the police officer who is investigating may, by an order in writing, summon two or more persons for the purpose of conducting the said investigation. This shall include any person who appears to be familiar with the facts of the case. All such persons are bound to attend and answer all questions asked truthfully. They can choose not to answer such questions which would tend to expose them to a criminal charge or a penalty or forfeiture. However, if the facts do not disclose a cognizable offence to which Section 170 of the Code applies, then such persons would not be required to attend a Magistrate’s Court.
The scope of an inquest report is extremely limited. The provisions lay down only the preliminary investigation or the ‘first impression’ of the body. The provision is restricted to dealing with unnatural deaths and dowry deaths.In the latter cases, it enlists the special performance that must be followed by the police personnel.