Section 174 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr.P.C.) – Explained!

Thus as rightly pointed out by the Supreme Court that the scope of proceedings under this section have a very limited scope that is, only to ascertain whether a person has died under suspicious circumstances or an unnatural death and if so, what may be apparent cause of his death. The questions as to who assaulted him and in what manner or under what circumstances etc. are outside the ambit and scope of this section.

The Supreme Court in Kuldeep Singh v. State of Punjab has held that the contents of an inquest report cannot be treated as evidence, but they can be looked into to test the veracity of a witness.

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Again, in yet another case, i.e., Shakila Khader v. Nausher Gama, the Apex Court held that in an inquest under Section 174 all the witnesses to an incident need not be examined because the purpose of inquest under this section is to establish the cause of death only.

The Supreme Court in Sotbir Singh v. State of Punjab, held that inquest report is prepared for the purposes mentioned in Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and not for corroborating the prosecution case and therefore non-mention of names of accused there under does not affect its evidentiary value. The plea that the name of accused is mentioned in the Panchnama prepared under Section 174, Cr. P. C. which adds to the vulnerability of the prosecution version is unsustainable.

The Inquest Report is to be prepared in a prescribed form but it does not become tainted or unacceptable merely on the ground that it was not made in the prescribed form. So also, omission of the names of assailants in the inquest report does not render it invalid because there exists no such column in the prescribed format.

The Supreme Court in Radha Mohan Singh v. State of U.P. held that the purpose of Inquest Report is limited to ascertainment of cause of death. The Court observed that an investigation under Section 174 is limited in scope and is confined to the ascertainment of the apparent cause of death. It is concerned with discovering whether in a given case the death was accidental, suicidal or homicidal or caused by animal and in what manner or by what weapon or instrument the injuries on the body appear to have been inflicted. It is for this limited purpose that the persons acquainted with the facts of the case are summoned and examined under Section 175, Cr. P.C.

The details of the overt act are not necessary to be recorded in the 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 or who are the witnesses of the assault etc. are not within the scope of proceedings under Section 174.

Therefore, it is not necessary for the person holding the inquest to mention all these details in his report. In the instant case, the inquest report contained wrong date of lodging of. F.I.R. and the person who made the said report were not asked anything about this discrepancy. The Court, however, ruled that this alone was sufficient to draw any adverse inference against the prosecution.

Explaining the object of inquest report, the Apex Court in Ravi alias Ravichandran v. State (Rep. by I.G. Police) observed that its purpose is only to notice as to whether murder committed was homicidal in nature or not. It is not intended to make a note in regard to identification marks of the accused.

A new sub-section (3) was inserted in Section 174 by the criminal law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983 keeping in view the rising incidence of dowry deaths. This sub­section provides that inquest made by Executive Magistrates in cases where a woman has, within seven years of her marriage committed suicide or died in circumstances raising a reasonable suspicion that some offence under Section 498A has been committed, should be sent for post mortem examination by the Medical Officer.

Sub-section (3) further provides that the police officer has the discretion not to send the dead body for post-mortem examination where there is no doubt about the cause of death. But this discretion should be used prudently and honestly.

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