SC: Accused Not Entitled to Acquittal on the Sole Ground of Investigator Being the Complainant

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A Constitutional Bench held that an investigation would not be unfair or biased solely on the ground that the informant of an offence under the NDPS Act, 1985 is also the investigator of the case. The Bench stated that such matters have to be decided on a case to case basis.

Brief facts of the case

In Mohan Lal v. the State of Punjab reported in (2018) 17 SCC 627, the Supreme Court took a stand that in case the investigation is conducted by the police officer who himself is the complainant, the trial is vitiated and the accused is entitled to acquittal. This view is questioned in the present case. This case was referred to be decided by a larger bench by a Full Bench of this court. Hence, the present Bench was constituted.

Arguments by the Accused

A fair investigation is the very foundation of a fair trial. It is then necessary that the informant and the investigator must not be the same person. The time when the officer under Section 42 of the NDPS Act hands over the person arrested or the goods seized, is the first-time information is received by the “investigating officer”. Only then is the time of commencement of the investigation.

Arguments by the State

There is no bar under Section 156 Cr.P.C. to an officer in charge of a police station to investigate the offence. The competence of such an investigating officer cannot be called in question in any proceedings. Also, under Section 157 Cr.P.C., an officer in charge of a police station who himself receives information of an offence is empowered to investigate the case.

Court’s Observations

The decision in the case of Bhagwan Singh v. the State of Rajasthan (1976) 1 SCC 15, is a decision on its facts. It cannot be said to lay an absolute proposition of law that in no case the informant can be the investigator. The inference of the accused being entitled to acquittal where the informant and the investigating officer is the same, cannot be made.

The Bench clarified that on numerous occasions the Court has convicted the accused even when the complainant and the investigating officer are the same. The question of bias would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. It is a broad and unqualified proposition that investigations would necessarily be unfair or biased. The police officer cannot be barred from the further investigation if he finds a person to have committed a crime.

The bench observed that the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Act, 1985, does not lay a procedure that the officers authorized to exercise the powers under Sections 41, 42, 43, and 44 of the Act cannot be the officer in charge for the investigation of the offences. Also, the investigation conducted by the concerned informant was fair or not is to be decided at the time of trial. It is not a judicial approach to distrust and suspects the officer without proven grounds of dishonesty.

The Court relied on the decision in State of Rajasthan v. Ram Chandra, that the question of prejudice has to be established and not inferred. The Court also overruled the decisions including that in Mohan Lal v. the State of Punjab, which states the informant cannot be the investigator and so the accused is entitled to acquittal.

Court’s Decision

The accused is not entitled to be acquitted solely on the ground that the informant is also the investigator of the case. NDPS Act does not specifically bar the complainant to be an investigator. The officer in charge of a police station for the investigation of the offences under the NDPS Act cannot be assumed to be prejudiced.


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