When a delay occurs in reporting a crime, or in other words when the complainant delays lodging of report either to the Police or to the Magistrate, the accused invariably seeks to take advantage of such delay by raising the contention in his defense.
Though delay can prove fatal to the prosecution case, but it is the facts and circumstances of each case which ultimately determine the impact of such delay. In several cases delay in lodging report becomes inconsequential. For example, cases where crimes go unreported for fear of social stigma, cases where crime goes undetected for several days or may be several months or longer, cases where the accused or witnesses may not have easy access to criminal justice machinery or where fear or undue influence keeps them away from raising their voice.
To gain a better understanding of how delay in lodging FIR / complaint impacts a case, relevant extracts from a few landmark judgements of Supreme Court are enumerated below:
1. Plausible explanation for delay is must: In Dilawar Singh v. State of Delhi (2007) 12 SCC 641 the Supreme Court said –
In criminal trial one of the cardinal principles for the Court is to look for plausible explanation for the delay in lodging the report. Delay sometimes affords opportunity to the complainant to make deliberation upon the complaint and to make embellishment or even make fabrications. Delay defeats the chance of the unsoiled and untarnished version of the case to be presented before the Court at the earliest instance. That is why if there is delay in either coming before the police or before the Court, the Courts always view the allegations with suspicion and look for satisfactory explanation. If no such satisfaction is formed, the delay is treated as fatal to the prosecution case.
2. Delay creates opportunity for exaggerated and concocted story: In Thulia Kali v. The State of Tamil Nadu (AIR 1973 SC 501) said –
First information report in a criminal case is an extremely vital and valuable piece of evidence for the purpose of corroborating, the oral evidence adduced at the trial. The importance of ‘the above report can hardly be overestimated from the standpoint of the accused. The object of insisting upon prompt lodging of the report to the police in respect of commission of an offence is to obtain early information regarding the circumstances in which the crime was committed, the names of the actual culprits and the part played by them as well as the names of eye witnesses present at the scene, of occurrence. Delay in lodging the first information report quite often results in embellishment which is a creature of afterthought. On account of delay, the report not only gets bereft of the advantage of spontaneity, danger creeps in of the introduction of coloured version exaggerated account or concocted story as a result of deliberation and consultation. It is, therefore, essential that the delay in lodging of the first information report should be satisfactorily explained.
3. Undue or unreasonable delay gives rise to suspicion: In Apren Joseph v. State of Kerala, (1973) 3 SCC 114 the Supreme Court observed –
First information report under Section 154 is not even considered a substantive piece of evidence. It can only be used to corroborate or contradict the informant’s evidence in court. But this information when recorded is the basis of the case set up by the informant. It is very useful if recorded before there is time and opportunity to embellish or before the informant’s memory fades. Undue or unreasonable delay in lodging the F.I.R., therefore, inevitably gives rise to suspicion which puts the court on guard to look for the possible motive and the explanation for the delay and consider its effect on the trustworthiness or otherwise of the prosecution version. In our opinion, no duration of time in the abstract can be fixed as reasonably for giving information of a crime to the police, the question of reasonable time being a matter for determination by the court in each case. Mere delay in lodging the first information report with the police is, therefore, not necessarily, as a matter of law, fatal to the prosecution. The effect of delay in doing so in the light of the plausibility of the explanation for the coming for such delay accordingly must fall for consideration on all the facts and circumstances of a given case.
4. Delay can be condoned where there is no motive to implicate the accused: In Ram Jag and others v. The State of U.P. (AIR 1974 SC 606) the Supreme Court said –
It is true that witnesses cannot be called upon to explain every hour’s delay and a commonsense view has to be taken in ascertaining whether the First Information Report was, lodged after an undue delay so as to afford enough scope for manipulating evidence. Whether the delay is so long as to throw a cloud of suspicion on the seeds of the prosecution must depend upon a variety of factors which would vary from case to case. Even a long delay in filing report of an occurrence can be condoned if the witnesses on whose evidence the prosecution relies have no motive for implicating the accused. On the other hand, prompt filing of the report is not an unmistakable guarantee of the truthfulness of the version of the prosecution.
5. Delayed FIR is not illegal: In Ravinder Kumar & Anr. Vs. State of Punjab, (2001) 7SCC 690 the Apex Court held –
It has to be remembered that law has not fixed any time for lodging the FIR. Hence a delayed FIR is not illegal. Of course a prompt and immediate lodging of the FIR is the ideal as that would give the prosecution a twin advantage. First is that it affords commencement of the investigation without any time lapse. Second is that it expels the opportunity for any possible concoction of a false version. Barring these two plus points for a promptly lodged FIR the demerits of the delayed FIR cannot operate as fatal to any prosecution case. It cannot be overlooked that even a promptly FIR is not an unreserved guarantee for the genuineness of the version incorporated therein. When there is criticism on the ground that FIR in a case was delayed the court has to look at the reason why there was such a delay. There can be a variety of genuine causes for FIR lodgment to get delayed. Rural people might be ignorant of the need for informing the police of a crime without any lapse of time. This kind of unconversantness is not too uncommon among urban people also. They might not immediately think of going to the police station. Another possibility is due to lack of adequate transport facilities for the informers to reach the police station. The third, which is a quite common bearing, is that the kith and kin of the deceased might take some appreciable time to regain a certain level of tranquility of mind or sedativeness of temper for moving to the police station for the purpose of furnishing the requisite information. Yet another cause is the persons who are supposed to give such information themselves could be so physically impaired that the police had to reach them on getting some nebulous information about the incident.
6. Delay automatically does not render the prosecution case doubtful: In Amar Singh vs Balwinder Singh & Ors., (2003) 2 SCC 518, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held –
There is no hard and fast rule that any delay in lodging the FIR would automatically render the prosecution case doubtful. It necessarily depends upon facts and circumstances of each case whether there has been any such delay in lodging the FIR which may cast doubt about the veracity of the prosecution case and for this a host of circumstances like the condition of the first informant, the nature of injuries sustained, the number of victims, the efforts made to provide medical aid to them, the distance of the hospital and the police station, etc. have to be taken into consideration. There is no mathematical formula by which an inference may be drawn either way merely on account of delay in lodging of the FIR.
7. Delay puts the Court on its guard: In the judgment of Sahebrao & Anr. Vs. State of Maharashtra (2006) 9 SCC 794 the Supreme Court said –
The settled principle of law of this Court is that delay in filing FIR by itself cannot be a ground to doubt the prosecution case and discard it. The delay in lodging the FIR would put the Court on its guard to search if any plausible explanation has been offered and if offered whether it is satisfactory.