What is a Cognizable and Non-Cognizable Offence in India?

What is a Cognizable and Non-Cognizable offence in India: The seriousness of an offence determines whether or not it is cognizable or not. This seriousness isn’t defined per se. However, the seriousness of an offence is determined by the severity of its punishment. All offences punishable by a sentence of more than three years in prison are considered serious and thus cognizable.

Definition: The words cognizable and non-cognizable offences are defined as follows in Sections 2(c) and 2(l), respectively.

Section 2 (c) - Any offence whereby a police officer may make a legitimate arrest without a warrant is considered a cognizable offence.
Section 2 (l) - Any act where a police officer is deprived of the ability to make an arrest without the need for a warrant is regarded as a non-cognizable offence.

Interpretation of the word “Cognizance”

The statute does not specify a specific standard for determining whether an offence is cognizable or non-cognizable. It does, however, stipulate that any offence punished by death, life imprisonment, or just about any sentence of more than three years is to be considered a cognizable offence, while still stating that this criteria is open to exceptions.  

The term cognizance has also been construed by the court in Ajit Kumar Palit v. State of West Bengal, AIR 1963 SC 765, despite the fact that it is not mentioned in the statutory provision. It simply means “to become aware of,” according to the court, and when applied to a court, a judge, or any other judicial official, it means “to take judicial notice.”

As in the case of State of West Bengal v. Swaran Kumar Guha and Others,1982 SCC 561, the Supreme Court stated that granting police unrestricted discretion in determining whether a matter is cognizable or non-cognizable would be a cruel killer of human liberty.

  • It was highlighted that in every matter of determination, the rules of natural justice must be observed. It went on to say that before an inquiry can begin, all of the reasons for finding a crime cognizable must be stated in the FIR.
  • The utilisation of investigative authorities must not be abused in any way that violates the accused’s constitutional and legal rights.
  • However, if the court believes that an individual’s rights are being infringed or that the proper procedure is not really being maintained during the investigative process, the court would intervene.

So in a layman’s language, a cognizable offence is one where the police take cognizance of a crime on their own initiative and without the requirement for judicial permission. In non-cognizable cases, police have no jurisdiction to arrest a person for a crime on its own without prior court authorization. The distinction between the two offences has been underlined in this article, as has the involvement of the police whenever a cognizable or non-cognizable offence is undertaken.

What is a Cognizable and Non-Cognizable offence in India?
What is a Cognizable and Non-Cognizable offence in India?

Cognizable offence

A “cognizable offence” is an offence in which, and a “cognizable case” is a case wherein a police officer may arrest without a warrant in line with the First Schedule or any other legislation in place at the time. The Code of Criminal Procedure contains no standards for determining whether an offence is cognizable or not. But, the Code also includes Schedule I, which relates to all offences there under Indian Penal Code and categorize them as cognizable or non-cognizable. Serious offences are cognizable. The gravity of the offence necessitates the most severe penalty. The First Schedule comprises offences punishable by imprisonment for 3 years or over under legislation besides the Indian Penal Code.

In the instance of a cognizable offence, a police officer is required by section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to file an FIR. He can even do some type of preliminary investigation before filing the FIR. In certain cases, a felon is apprehended and brought before the magistrate within the time limit. Some examples of cognizable offences are as follows:

Waging or trying to wage war against the government of India, or aiding and abetting the waging of war, Murder, Rape, Dowry Death, Kidnapping, Theft, Criminal Breach of Trust, Unnatural Offenses…

Notable points of cognizable offence are:

  • Cognizable offences would be those for which a police officer has the authority to arrest without a warrant.
  • In such circumstances, following arrest, the accused will be brought before a magistrate, who may order the police to conduct an investigation.
  • If the magistrate determines that the claim is made up, i.e. the charge sheet submitted is also against the accused, the magistrate may issue an arrest warrant.
  • Even during pending the determination of the trial, a bail application may be made with the relevant magistrate.
  • Bailable and non-bailable offences are both cognizable.

Section 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure defines a cognizable offence. A cognizable offence is one for which a police officer may arrest without the need for a warrant or permission/order again from Magistrate in line with the First Schedule or any other legislation in place at the time. Cognizable offences are ones that are significant in character. Theft, Murder, Dowry Death, Criminal Breach of Trust, Abduction, Rape, and Unnatural Offenses are some examples.

Section 154 of the CrPC states that in the instance of a cognizable offence or case, the Police Officer must receive the FIR pertaining to the cognizable offence, which can be acquired without the Magistrate’s consent, and register it in the General Diary to begin the investigation immediately. An FIR initiates the criminal legal process. A Police Officer can inquire without the consent of the Magistrate if a Cognizable offence was committed.

Role of Police Officer in Cognizable Offences

A cognizable offence is one for which a policeman can make an arrest without a warrant or without the approval of a magistrate under the terms of a first schedule or the certain other legislation in effect at the time. When these sorts of offences are committed, a police officer has the authority to make an arrest right away. Before filing a FIR, he can undertake a preliminary investigation. An arrest can also be made by the police and they can also bring suspect before magistrate.

The Supreme Court of India declared in Lalitha Kumari v. Government of U.P. that perhaps the police would compulsorily record the FIR upon receiving a complaint if the information exposes a cognizable offence, and that no prior investigation is permitted in such a case. Any magistrate authorised under Section 190 of said Criminal Procedure Code can instruct a police officer on duty of a police department to investigate charges, according to Section 156(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code.

The police officer in charge also has the authority to conduct a medical examination on the rape victim. If an inquiry is not completed within 24 hours, it may be prosecuted under Section 167 of the Criminal Procedure Code. A maximum of 15 days in police detention is allowed. This is known as police custody, or if the police custody is more than 15 days, the detention shall not exceed 90 days provided the legitimate grounds are met.

Only the most serious crimes, such as those punished by death, life imprisonment, or ten years in jail, are included, and detention must not exceed 60 days in the event of lesser offences.

Non cognizable offences

A “non-cognizable offence” is one for which a police officer seems to have no right to arrest without the need for a warrant, and a “non-cognizable case” is one in which a police officer will have no power to arrest without a warrant. Such offences are minor in nature and cause little harm to society.

Before criminal procedures begin, the offended person is expected to submit a complaint. There are more private wrongs in the non-cognizable offences. As a result, citizens take the initiative to pursue the perpetrator and gather evidence.  Without the authorization granted by a Judicial Magistrate, a police officer could not indeed arrest without a warrant, and also an officer lacks the necessary obligation nor the capacity to investigate such offences. Assault, cheating, forgery, and other non-serious offences are examples of the non cognizable offences.

Notable Points of Non-Cognizable Offence

Non-cognizable offences are those for which a police officer is unable to make an arrest without a warrant. 

In such cases, all stages must be followed including

  • filing a complaint/F.I.R.
  • investigation
  • charge sheet
  • Submission in court
  • Trial

and, if a case has been made out, final order of arrest.

A non-cognizable offence or case is one for which the police do not have the right to arrest without the need for a warrant, according to the Criminal Procedure Code. Non-cognizable offences are ones that aren’t as severe.

Assault, cheating, forgery, libel, slander, and other offences are examples.

If a police officer obtains information on the commission of a non-cognizable criminal, he is required to write the substance of the matter in the department or police station’s diary and report the informant to the appropriate Magistrate, according to Section 155 of the CrPC.

In order to begin an investigation into a non-cognizable offence or case, the police officer must first acquire authorization from the Magistrate.

Role of Police Officer in Non-Cognizable Offences

As per section 2(l), a non-cognizable offence is one for which a police officer does not have the right to arrest without a warrant. Without a warrant, a police officer cannot arrest the suspect or initiate an inquiry. The police officer in charge shall seek an order from the magistrate under section 155(2). Non-cognizable offences include assault, forgery, cheating, defamation, and public annoyance, among others. For making an arrest in such cases, the following stages must be completed: filing of a complaint, investigation, charge sheet, charge sheet to be submitted in court, and trial.


To begin an investigation, the offended party must file a complaint with the appropriate police station. The police officer is responsible for filing the charge sheet in court once an investigation is concluded. Only after the trial, the court will give orders for the issuance of a warrant to arrest the accused, which the police officer must gather in the form of documentation.

Landmark Judgements

Sakiri Vasu v. State of UP and others

As mentioned by the Supreme Court, if a person has grounds to suspect that the police are not investigating the problem or are refusing to file a FIR, he or she can convey the content of the information to the superintendent of police by the virtue of section 154. (3). If the aggrieved person is still dissatisfied with the inquiry, he or she may make an application with the magistrate under section 156(3). If the magistrate is convinced that the information reveals a cognizable offence, he or she may instruct the police to file the FIR.

Air 2009, SC 1262, Ravishwar Manjhi vs State Of Jharkhand

It was decided that information obtained over the phone by a police officer without the identity or description of the accused, the type of the victims’ injuries, or the names of the perpetrators could not be considered as the basis for a FIR.

Sunil Kumar vs. M.P. State

The Supreme Court concluded that the petitioners should also have sought the Superintendent of Police before reaching the Court, and that respondents should take cognizance of their complaint as soon as feasible.

Criticism and conclusion

Arrests made without a warrant and investigations conducted without the authority of the court have also resulted in some unfavourable outcomes. For example, there is almost no application of the law in social reform instances when the infraction is penalised by less than three years since the police are not permitted to take any action in such circumstances. [3]

However, it would be preferable for social policy if such offences were explicitly deemed cognizable. For example, a person charged under the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 has taken steps to make such explicit arrangements.

Possession without a legal justification or Who has been declared a criminal?, etc.

The function of the police is critical, and the use of police authority should be honest and authentic rather than arbitrary. If a police officer receives information on a cognizable crime right away, he should submit a FIR right away since the state has a responsibility to take cognizance of the crime. When a cognizable offence happens, simply filing a FIR is not enough; the crime must be thoroughly investigated. In the case of a non-cognizable offence, public and independent agencies can assist the victim in filing a FIR. There should be no distinction for both cognizable and non-cognizable offences, and all crimes should be required to be registered.

To sum up, while the categorization of offences was created to make the administration of justice simpler, it is nevertheless hampered by the grey areas that remain in the classification.


  • Books
  1. R.V.S. Kelkar, Outlines of Criminal Procedure, Lucknow: Eastern Book Company, Second Ed. 1984.
  • Internet Sources
  1. “India Code: Section Details.” India Code: Home. Accessed 6 January 2022. https://www.indiacode.nic.in/show-data?actid=AC_CEN_5_23_000010_197402_1517807320555&sectionId=22368&sectionno=2&orderno=2.
  2. “CITIZENS CORNER: Bureau Of Police Research And Development, Government of India.” Home Page: Bureau Of Police Research And Development, Government of India. Accessed 6 January 2022. https://bprd.nic.in/content/3718_1_CITIZENSCORNER.aspx.
  • Case Laws
  1. Smt. Gurmito vs. State of Punjab And Ors 1996 CriLJ 1254 P&H
  2. Mohd. Yoysuf vs. Afaq Jahan, (2006), SCC 627

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