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It would be in the fitness of things to first and foremost specify that while ruling on a very significant legal point pertaining to the role of the Magistrate, the Rajasthan High Court Bench at Jaipur in a most learned, laudable, landmark, logical and latest judgment titled Prateek Sood and Others vs State of Rajasthan and Anr in S.B. Criminal Writ Petition No. 745/2018 and cited in Neutral Citation No.: 2024:RJ-JP:19800 that was pronounced on April 26, 2024 and downloaded on 24/5/2024 underscored in no uncertain terms that the Magistrate should not act as a mouthpiece or a post office for the prosecution but should apply a judicial mind at the stage of cognizance. We also need to note here that the Rajasthan High Court in this leading case very strongly deprecated the reprehensible practice of taking cognizance by filling blank spaces in a printed pro-forma. What also cannot be glossed over is that the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Anil Kumar Upman said unequivocally on a bare first look of the order taking cognizance that, “It reveals that the judicial mind was not applied by the learned magistrate while taking cognizance. In printed pro-forma, cognizance has been taken by filling the blank spaces. Such practice adopted by the learned trial court cannot be endorsed rather it should be deprecated.” Absolutely right!

At the very outset, this brilliant, brief, bold and balanced judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Anil Kumar Upman of Jaipur Bench of Rajasthan High Court at Jodhpur sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “This criminal writ petition has been filed on behalf of the petitioners seeking quashing of FIR No.547/2017 registered at Police Station Vaishali Nagar, District Jaipur and all consequential proceedings arising out of it including order taking cognizance dated 04.10.2017 passed by learned Additional Civil Judge cum Metropolitan Magistrate No.14, Jaipur Metropolitan in Criminal Case No.670/17.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 2 that, “Learned counsel for the petitioners submits that the impugned FIR has been filed with malice and ulterior motive. It is contended that relations between petitioner No.1 and respondent No.2 are not cordial and in order to settle personal score, impugned FIR has been lodged, wherein, false and frivolous allegations have been levelled just to humiliate and harass petitioner No.1 and his relatives. Counsel submits that entire proceedings initiated by police is illegal as same is in violation of mandatory Sections 13, 14 and 15 of The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (in short ‘PITA’). It is also contented by learned counsel for the petitioners that after filing charge-sheet in the matter, learned trial court vide order dated 04.10.2017 took cognizance for the offences punishable under Sections 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7 of the PITA Act. A bare perusal whereof clearly reveals that the learned trial court in a quite mechanical manner and without application of mind, by merely filling the blanks in a stereo typed format, has passed the order taking cognizance. He further submits that the order dated 04.10.2017 shows that the learned trial court has not applied its mind while taking cognizance and has just fulfilled empty formalities. He thus, prays that the impugned FIR and all other consequential proceedings including the order taking cognizance dated 04.10.2017 may be quashed.”

As we see, the Bench then concedes in para 3 that, “Per contra, learned Public Prosecutor vehemently opposes the submissions of the petitioner’s counsel. He, however, does not dispute the fact that the order taking cognizance dated 04.10.2017 is a typed format with blanks and while filling up these blank, the same has been passed.”

While citing the relevant case law, the Bench postulates in para 5 that, “So far as the prayer of the petitioners’ counsel seeking quashing of the impugned FIR is concerned, a bare perusal of FIR, discloses commission of cognizable offences and after thorough investigation, police has also submitted charge-sheet against the petitioners. The case of the present petitioners does not cover under any guidelines issued by the Hon’ble Apex Court in the case of State of Haryana versus Choudhary Bhajan Lal reported in AIR 1992 SC 604. Thus, I am of the considered opinion that no interference is called for by this Court so as to quash the impugned FIR.”

As it turned out, the Bench then points out in para 6 that, “However, this Court deems it fit and proper to make certain observations on the order taking cognizance as this Court is not convinced and satisfied with the manner and way, same has been dealt with by the learned trial court.”

Most significantly, the Bench deems it fit to mandate in para 7 that, “At the stage of cognizance, it is mandatory for the learned trial magistrate to consider the entire documents submitted along with the charge-sheet/complaint and the evidence adduced in support of complaint in order to find out prima facie case against the accused to issue process. Initiation of the criminal proceedings is not mere formality for the learned magistrates and when charge-sheet or complaint is submitted before them then learned magistrate is not to act as a mouth piece or as a post office for the prosecution. At the stage of cognizance, it is expected from the learned magistrate to examine the material produced by the investigation agency or complainant and to examine basic infirmities which appear in the prosecution case. It is true that at the stage of cognizance, meticulous examination of evidence is not required but for limited purpose of issuance criminal process, the learned magistrates are at least, required to apply judicial mind as initiation of criminal prosecution is a very serious issue because criminal action against a party means they have to deal with police, court hearings, loss of reputation and a variety of other kinds of pressure.”

Do note, the Bench notes in para 8 that, “Though, the word ‘cognizance’ has not been defined in the criminal procedure code, but the meaning of cognizance can be derived from the number of precedents and judicial pronouncements. The dictionary meaning of cognizance is taking account of, taking note of, to gain knowledge about, to have knowledge regarding something. The meaning of Cognizance given in Black’s Law Dictionary, reads as under:

Cognizance- Jurisdiction, or the exercise of jurisdiction, or power to try and determine causes; judicial examination of a matter, or power and authority to make it.”

Briefly stated, the Bench points in para 15 that, “Now adverting to the facts of the present case, this court finds that from bare first look of the order taking cognizance, it reveals that judicial mind was not applied by the learned magistrate while taking cognizance. In printed pro-forma, cognizance has been taken by filling the blank spaces. Such practice adopted by the learned trial court cannot be endorsed rather it should be deprecated.”

While citing yet another recent, remarkable and relevant case law, the Bench observes in para 16 that, “Aforesaid issue was considered by this Court and extreme displeasure was expressed in case of Monica and Vinay Malhotra v. The State of Rajasthan Through Pubic Prosecutor, reported in 2011 (2) CriLR 1750 and held as under:

“30. What is still more disturbing is to note that the learned court of ACJM has also mechanically passed the order taking cognizance against petitioners on a printed pro-forma, which cannot at all be appreciated. No doubt, at the stage of taking cognizance, the court is not required to sift and appreciate evidence but at the same time, a court of law cannot be expected to work mechanically and pass orders of taking cognizance by just filling in the blanks on a printed pro-forma, wherein some columns have been left unfilled to be filled on case to case basis. How possibly a judicial magistrate could frame an order taking cognizance in this fashion, can neither be appreciated nor approved. This belies the judicial application of mind.””

Most remarkably and most forthrightly, the Bench propounds in para 18 that, “In view of the aforesaid discussion, this Court is of the considered opinion that merely filling up the date, name of the accused person/s, mentioning offences and case number in printed pro-forma and then putting signatures by the concerned Presiding Officer reflect complete non-application of mind because the cognizance order must reflect prima-facie opinion of the learned Magistrate on the material collected during investigation. Order of issuance of process is not an empty formality as it may affect the personal liberty of a person. Article 21 of Constitution of India guarantees personal liberty of a person and same cannot be deprived of, without due procedure of law. Apart from this, summoning of accused to appear before criminal court after taking cognizance is a serious matter, affecting the dignity, self-respect and his/her image in society. Therefore, proper process by the criminal court must be followed at the time of taking cognizance and summoning the accused.”

As a corollary, the Bench then holds in para 19 that, “Consequently, this writ petition is partly allowed. The order taking cognizance dated 04.10.2017 passed by learned Additional Civil Judge cum Metropolitan Magistrate No.14, Jaipur Metropolitan in Criminal Case No.670/17 is quashed and set aside. The learned trial court is directed to pass a fresh order on the issue of cognizance in light of the law laid down in the afore-cited case laws.”

Finally, the Bench then concludes by holding in para 20 that, “Registrar General is directed to circulate copy of this order among all judicial magistrates of Rajasthan State Judiciary, so that such practice of filling in the blanks in printed formats may be avoided.”

In summary, we thus see that the Rajasthan High Court has made it pretty clear that Magistrate should not act as Prosecution’s post office. This must be implemented most strictly. What has been directed by the Rajasthan High Court while deprecating the abominable practice of taking cognizance by filling blank spaces in printed pro-forma must be completely shunned. No denying it!

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