Jurisdictional Competence- A boon or a bane?

By Dr Poornima Advani, The author is partner, The Law Point, and former chairperson, National Commission for Women.

The Supreme Court recently upheld the Bihar government’s action to transfer the investigation related to the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The order is a testament to the judiciary’s commitment to guarantee a fair, competent and impartial investigation. The Apex Court went a step further, and declared that any new cases investigating into the actor’s demise should be handed over to CBI, to ensure complete justice and avoid any potential political interference.

The petition, filed by Rhea Chakraborty, sought to invalidate the consent given by the Bihar government to CBI on the grounds that the Patna police lacked jurisdiction to file the FIR since the alleged incidents had taken place in the jurisdiction of the Bandra police- and hence within the jurisdictional competence of the State of Maharashtra. Also, that the Mumbai police had already launched an inquiry under section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure; and hence, the Patna police could not subsequently register an FIR on the basis of a complaint by the father of the deceased.

On the other hand, it was argued by the Counsel for the State of Bihar that it was incumbent on the Patna police to register an FIR more so since the complaint revealed a cognisable offence

It was clarified by the Learned Solicitor General that the Maharashtra police was conducting only a limited enquiry under section 174 of the CRPC and had not registered an FIR. Hence, the Maharashtra State was not conducting any investigation in the matter.

And on the other hand the state of Bihar had registered a formal FIR.

The Supreme Court opined that the ‘investigation’ commenced by Patna police and the ‘inquiry’ launched by the Mumbai police were two different proceedings under the law. Drawing a distinction the Supreme Court held that the proceeding under 174 CrPC is limited to a preliminary enquiry by the police to determine the apparent cause of and unnatural death. These are not investigations. They have a limited scope.

In the present case The Supreme Court opined that the Mumbai Police had attempted to stretch the purview of section 174 without drawing up any FIR. An inquest under S 174 need not go into details of the overt acts but stops at concluding, the cases of unnatural or suspicious deaths, whether an investigation is mandated.

The Bihar police were found to be within their jurisdiction to transfer the case to CBI.

In this regard it is worth noting that under the federal design of the Constitution, the police is a state subject under list II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. Hence normally the investigation of a crime should be undertaken by the police having the authority under and the territorial jurisdiction. At the same time, it was clarified in the matter of in Rasiklala Dalpatram Thakkar Vs. State of Gujarat (2010) 1 SCC 1, by Justice Altamas Kabir, as he was then, that a police officer cannot refrain from investigating a matter on territorial grounds and the issue can be decided on after investigation.

It is now reiterated that the jurisdiction of a police station cannot be invalidated at the stage of investigation. Therefore, a jurisdictional objection cannot, and should not, be allowed to obstruct the police’s ability to conduct a thorough investigation.

The investigation is a crucial component in the administration of justice. It sets the entire judicial process into motion. A timely, impartial, and thorough investigation can lessen the burden of the judiciary in scrutinizing evidence and ultimately, delivering justice. If the jurisdiction of an investigative authority is severely limited, for instance, by imposing strict territorial restrictions, it may hinder the authority’s power to effectively execute its functions.

Jurisdictional objections without merit, such as in the Sushant Singh Rajput case, can unnecessarily delay the investigation and thus detrimentally affect the judicial process as a whole. Take, for instance, the fact that when a team of the Patna police arrived in Mumbai, it was met with non-cooperation and hostility from the local police. Instances like these highlight the impediments jurisdictional conflicts pose in the overall administration of justice. Fortunately, the Supreme Court, in consonance with past decisions, did not condone this obstruction, instead upholding the jurisdiction of the Patna police to investigate the matter.

This does not mean that the jurisdiction of any authority as recognized in Statute should be completely dismissed or disregarded. The jurisdiction of any authority relates to its ability and competence to execute the tasks fairly, effectively and impartially. It adds legal credibility, avoids multiplicity of proceedings and ensures that the authority decides the matter with due regard to law and procedure. On the other hand, barring any matter from being investigated or adjudicated upon, simply because of an unreasonable jurisdictional limitation can have an equally chilling effect on the justice system. Understanding that jurisdictional conflicts may cause further impediments in investigating this case and that a prompt probe was necessary, the Supreme Court ordered that any new cases that may surface to be immediately transferred to the CBI. It implicitly acknowledged that in the event FIRs were filed in other States, more petitions may follow challenging the jurisdiction. Undoubtedly, this will lead to further interruptions in the investigative process. Every litigant deserves a speedy and fair trial, but the technicalities of law are increasingly hindering courts’ ability to ensure justice.

The judgement demonstrates the judiciary’s unwillingness to allow the obstruction in the delivery of justice. Especially at the crucial junction of investigation, strict and narrow applications of jurisdictional requirements have a detrimental effect on the judicial process as a whole. Courts must accordingly decide to scrutinise jurisdictional objections, to avoid any miscarriage of justice.

This post has been Submitted by Pankaj Tiwari.

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