The jurisdiction of the criminal courts in inquiries and trials in India

Section 177 of Cr.P.C postulates that ordinarily offence shall be inquired into and tried by a court within whose local jurisdiction it was committed. Section 178, inter alia, deals with situations when it is uncertain in which of several local areas, an offence is committed or partly committed in one area and partly in another. The section provides that the offence can be inquired into or tried by a court having jurisdiction over any of the local areas mentioned therein.

Under Section 179, offence is triable where act is done or consequences thereof ensued. Section 180 deals with the place of trial where act is an offence by reason of its relation to other offence. It provides that the first mentioned offence may be inquired into or tried by a court within whose local jurisdiction either act was done. In all these sections, for jurisdiction the emphasis is on the place where the offence has been committed. There is, however, a departure under Section 181(1) where additionally place of trial can also be the place where the accused is found, besides the court within whose jurisdiction the offence was committed. But the said section deals with offences committed by those who are likely to be on move which is evident from nature of offences mentioned in the section. Section 181(1) is in respect of the offences where the offenders are not normally located at a fixed place and that explains the departure.

Section 183 deals with offences committed during journey or voyage. Section 186 deals with situation where two or more courts take cognizance of the same offence and in case of doubt as to which one of the courts has jurisdiction to proceed further, the High Court decides the matter. Section 187 deals with a situation where a person within local jurisdiction of a Magistrate has committed an offence outside such jurisdiction. The Magistrate can compel such a person to appear before him and then send him to the Magistrate which has jurisdiction to inquire into or try such offence.

Under the aforesaid circumstances, the expression abovenoted in Section 188 is to be construed. The same expression was also there in the old Code. From the scheme of Chapter XIII of the Code, it is clear that neither the place of business or place of residence of the petitioner and for that matter of even the complainant is of any relevance. The relevant factor is the place of commission of offence. By legal fiction, Section 188 which deals with offence committed outside India, makes the place at which the offender may be found, to be a place of commission of offence. Section 188 proceeds on the basis that a fugitive from justice may be found anywhere in India. The finding of the accused has to be by the Court where accused appears. From the plain and clear language of the section, it is evident that the finding of the accused cannot be by the complainant or the Police. Further, it is not expected that a victim of an offence which was committed outside India should come to India and first try to ascertain where the accused is or may be and then approach that court. The convenience of such a victim is of importance. That has been kept in view by Section 188 of the Code. A victim may come to India and approach any court convenient to him and file complaint in respect of offence committed abroad by the Indian. The convenience of a person who is hiding after committing offence abroad and is fugitive from justice is not relevant. It is in this context, the expression in question has to be interpreted. Section 188 has been subject matter of interpretation for about 150 years.

In Reg vs. Benito Lopez 1858 Cr LC 431, dealing with the question of jurisdiction of English courts in respect of offences committed on the high seas by foreigners on board English ships, decision was rendered by 14 Judges, i.e., all the Judges of the Court except Bramwell, B. The accused was held to have been found within jurisdiction of the county where he was tried. The decision refers to principles of International Law that a person is liable to be punished of all such offences wheresoever committed. Interpreting the word ‘found’ in provision under consideration in that case, which was to the following effect :

“If any person being a British subject charged with having committed any crime or offence on board any British ship on the high seas, or in any foreign port or harbour; or if any person, not being a British subject, charged with having committed any crime or offence on board any British ship on the high seas, is found within the jurisdiction of any court of justice in Her Majesty’s dominions, which would have cognizance of such crime or offence if committed within the limits of its ordinary jurisdiction, such court shall have jurisdiction to hear and try the case as if such crime or offence had been committed within such limits: provided that nothing contained in this section shall be construed to alter or interfere with the Act 12 and 13 Vict. C. 96.”

 It was held that the word ‘found’ is used in its most extensive sense, and was intended to include all cases by giving jurisdiction to try at any place where the prisoner might happen to be at the time of trial. The object of the provision was to get rid of all questions about local jurisdiction. Lord Campbell, Chief Justice, in his opinion, dealing with the contention that if the prisoner was brought within the jurisdiction of the court against his will, he cannot be said to have been found there within the meaning of the Act, held that a man is ‘found’, within the meaning of that Act in any place where he is actually present.[Om Hemrajani Versus State of U.P. and another AIR 2005 SC 392 ]