What is meant by “taking cognizance of an offence”?

Section 190-Sections 200 and 202 of the 1973 Code.

The question which arose for consideration therein was required to be determined in the context of the provisions of Sections 200 and 202 of the 1898 Code vis-a-vis Sections 200 and 202 of the 1973 Code. The question was as to whether cognizance is taken before issuance of process or not. It in that context, it was stated :

“14. This raises the incidental question: What is meant by “taking cognizance of an offence” by a Magistrate within the contemplation of Section 190? This expression has not been defined in the Code. But from the scheme of the Code, the content and marginal heading of Section 190 and the caption of Chapter XIV under which Sections 190 to 199 occur, it is clear that a case can be said to be instituted in a court only when the court takes cognizance of the offence alleged therein. The ways in which such cognizance can be taken are set out in clauses (a, (b) and (c) of Section 190(1). Whether the Magistrate has or has not taken cognizance of the offence will depend on the circumstances of the particular case including the mode in which the case is sought to be instituted, and the nature of the preliminary action, if any, taken by the Magistrate. Broadly speaking, when on receiving a complaint, the Magistrate applies his mind for the purposes of proceeding under Section 200 and the succeeding sections in Chapter XV to the Code of 1973, he is said to have taken cognizance of the offence within the meaning to Section 190(l)(a). It, instead of proceeding under Chapter XV, he has, in the judicial exercise of his discretion, taken action of some other kind, such as issuing a search warrant for the purpose of investigation, or ordering investigation by the police under Section 156(3, he cannot be said to have taken cognizance of any offence.”

35. Institution of a prosecution and institution of a complaint case in a criminal court stand on different footings. Whereas summons to an accused in a complaint case can be issued only upon taking cognizance of the offence, the same would not mean in a case where first information report has been lodged resulting in initiation of investigation or where it has been referred to police or other authorities for enquiry; even then a prosecution may not be held to have been initiated at that stage.

36. What transpires from the said decision is that whereas before cognizance is taken, application of mind on the part of the court is imperative, taking action of some other kind would not mean that cognizance has been taken. In some cases, even after lodging of the F.I.R., a preliminary inquiry which may not be an investigation into the crime, may be initiated.[State, CBI Versus Sashi Balasubramanian and ANOTHER]