From Justice Definitions Project

What is Complaint?

Under Indian Criminal Justice System, Section 2(d) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“CrPC”) (Section 2(e) of Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS)) provides for the definition of the term ‘complaint’. According to Section 2(d) CrPC, the term ‘complaint’ refers to any accusation made orally or in writing to a magistrate, with the view of him taking action in accordance with the provisions of CrPC, that a person (whether known or unknown) has committed an offence. The term ‘complaint’ as provided under CrPC does not include the police report. However, a report made by a police officer which discloses after investigation, the commission of a non-cognizable offence is a complaint.

However, certain special laws such as The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013; The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 etc. have their own definitions of ‘complaint’.

Note: CrPC is to be replaced by The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 (BNSS) which was passed by the Parliament in 2023 but yet to be implemented. However, Section 2(e) of BNSS has a definition of ‘complaint’ similar to Section 2(d) of CrPC.

As per Section 190(a) of the CrPC, (Section 210(1)(a) of BNSS) any magistrate of the first class and any magistrate of the second class specially empowered by the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) in this behalf e may take cognizance of any offence upon receiving a complaint of the facts which form such offence.

Section 202(1) of CrPC (Section 225(1) of BNSS) empowers the Magistrate to postpone the issue of process against the accused and either inquire into the case himself or direct an investigation to be made by a police officer or by such other person which he thinks fit for the purpose of deciding whether or not there exists sufficient ground for proceeding. By an amendment of CrPC in 2005, the postponement of the issue of process has been made mandatory where the accused is residing in an area beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the concerned Magistrate.

Section 203 of CrPC (Section 226 of BNSS) empowers the Magistrate to dismiss the complaint if, after considering the statements made by the complainant and the witnesses on oath and the result of the inquiry or investigation, if any, made under Section 202(1), he is satisfied that there is no sufficient ground for proceeding. The exercise of this power is hedged with the condition that the Magistrate should record brief reasons for dismissing the complaint.

It is only after the Magistrate takes cognizance of the offence and does not dismiss the complaint under Section 203 of CrPC that he proceeds to the next stage, namely, the stage of “Commencement of proceedings” by issuing process under Section 204 of CrPC (Section 227 of BNSS).

Some of the key differences between the terms ‘First Information Report (FIR)’ and ‘Complaint’ are as follows:

FIR Complaint
No definition of ‘FIR’ is provided under CrPC. However, Section 154 of CrPC (Section 173 of BNSS) provided for information in cognizable cases to the police. The term ‘complaint’ is defined under Section 2(d) of  theCrPC (Section 2(e) of BNSS).
Information relating to commission of a cognizable offence  given by  any person whether orally(then reduce to writing by police) or in writing  to the police. An allegation made by any person whether orally or in writing to a Magistrate, that a person has committed an offence.
It is the first step to set the criminal justice process in motion and investigation by the police begins after an FIR is registered. A  complaint does not necessarily lead to an investigation. After receiving the complaint if, the Magistrate is of opinion that there is sufficient ground for proceeding, he may order an inquiry or direct an investigation with respect to the complaint made.
An FIR is registered only for cognizable offenses. A complaint can be made before the magistrate for both cognizable as well as non-cognizable offenses.
FIR is filed or registered before the police. A complaint can only be filed before a magistrate.

Official Definition of Complaint

According to Section 2(d) of CrPC (Section 2(e) of BNSS), a complaint is any allegation made verbally or in writing to a magistrate with the intention of having him take action in accordance with CrPC that a person has committed an offence.[1] According to Section 190 of CrPC (Section 210 of BNSS), any person can approach a magistrate and file a complaint alleging the commission of an offence. After the magistrate takes cognizance of any offence upon receiving a complaint, he can examine the complainant and witnesses on oath as per Section 200 of CrPC (Section 223 of BNSS).

If the police officer initially believes the case involves the commission of a cognizable offence or the investigation only reveals the commission of a non-cognizable offence, the police officer's report may be treated as a complaint under Section 2(d) of CrPC.[2] The report and investigation cannot be recognised as a complaint under Section 2(d) or 190(1)(a) of CrPC if it is clear from the outset of the investigation that the case merely included the commission of a non-cognizable offence.

Explanation to Section 2(d) of CrPC applies to cases where the investigation is started into an alleged cognizable offence but after investigation, it is revealed that a non-cognizable offence has been committed. Therefore, where a police officer starts investigation into a non-cognizable offence without the permission of a Magistrate, the report filed by him cannot be treated as a complaint.[3]

Protest Petition: The term ‘protest petition’ has not been defined under CrPC. However, when the police completes the investigation with regard to the commission of an offence, the police report is submitted to the magistrate under Section 173(2) of CrPC (Section 193(3) of BNSS).

The aggrieved or the complainant, if not satisfied with the police report, may file a protest petition before the magistrate concerned stating his/her dissatisfaction and may pray for further investigation. At the same time the aggrieved person may also pray for further proceedings under Section 200 and 202 of CrPC (Section 223 and 225 of BNSS).

Every protest petition against the final report by the investigating agency cannot be treated as a complaint.[4] However, if there is indication by the complainant that his protest petition is to be treated as a complaint and all the requirements of a complaint are fulfilled, the Magistrate may treat it like a complaint and cognizance of the same can be taken.[5] If the Magistrate wants to dismiss the case despite the protest petition, the complainant must be given an opportunity to be heard.[6]

Dismissal of Complaint:  If after considering the statements on oath (if any) of the complainant and of the witnesses and the result of inquiry or investigation (if any) under Section 202 of CrPC (Section 225 of BNSS), the Magistrate is of the view that there is no sufficient ground for proceeding further, he has the power under Section 203 of CrPC (Section 226 of BNSS) to dismiss the complaint after recording his reasons for doing so.

Second Complaint: If the claimant's initial complaint was dismissed by the Magistrate under Section 203 of CrPC (Section 226 of BNSS), a fresh complaint having the same facts is maintainable only under exceptional circumstances[7] such as where the order has been passed on an incomplete record, it was manifestly absurd, unjust,, or where new facts could not have been brought on the record in the previous proceedings etc.[8] Further, even in instances of dismissal of complaint due to default, a second complaint on the same facts may be allowed.[9] An order dismissing a complaint pursuant to Section 203 of CrPC does not constitute either discharge or acquittal and thus, the principle of autrefois convict or autrefois acquit is not applicable to it.[10]

Types of Complaint

The National Crime Records Bureau classifies complaints into oral and written. Oral complaints include those narrated to O/C/SHO, and distress calls over the phone. Written complaints include those in an electronic format, complaints initiated suo-moto by police, court complaints etc.

Citizens can register their complaints online in their state’s Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems.

Further, complaints pertaining to cyber crimes can be lodged in the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal.[11] For cyber crimes against women and children, the complainant has an option to either report anonymously or report and track. In case of the latter, certain details must be mandatorily filled.

Appearance in Official Database

The total number of complaints received under the Indian Penal Code, 1870 as well as under Special & Local laws are published annually by the National Crime Records Bureau. The total number of court complaints given in written form is 122748 in the year 2022.

TABLE 1.1 Total Complaints Received and Cases Registered under IPC and SLL - 2022

Research that engages with Complaint

233rd Law Commission of India Report recommends amendments to sections 249 and 256 of the CrPC (Section 272 and 279 of BNSS), and suggests inserting provisions on the lines of Order IX of the CPC, enabling restoration of complaints in cases where the accused has been acquitted for non-appearance of the complainant where there was sufficient cause for such non-appearance. It was noted that a meritorious complaint cannot be allowed to be thwarted only on the ground that the complainant was unable to remain present, even though there existed good and sufficient cause for such absence. However,  12th Law Commission of India in its 141st Report recommended an amendment of Section 256 of the CrPC (Section 279 of BNSS) enabling restoration of a criminal case wherein the accused has been acquitted for non-appearance of the complainant where there was sufficient cause for the non-appearance.[12]


  1. Visbtua Mitter v. O.F. Poddar, (1983) 4 SCC 701
  2. P. Kunhumuhammed v. State of Kerala, 1981 Cri LJ 356 Ker HC
  3. Lilies Ali v. State of West Bengal, 1997 Cr LJ 803 (Cal)
  4. Qasim v. State, 1984 Cr LJ 1677 (All)
  5. Ramlakhan Mahto v. Rameshwar Mahto, 1975 Cr LJ 866 (Pat)
  6. Bhagwant Singh v. Gommr. of Police, (1985) 2 SCC 537
  7. Poonam Chand Jain v. Fazru, AIR 2010 SC 659
  8. Pramath Nath Talukdar v. Saroj Ranjan Sarkar, 1962 AIR 876
  9. Santokh Singh v. Geetanjali Woolen Pvt Ltd, 1993 Cr LJ 3744; Harish Chand Mittal v. Laxmi Devi, 1996 Cr LJ 4258 (All)
  10. Criminal Procedure, R V Kelkar, 6th edition.
  11. Available at
  12. 12th Law Commission of India, 141st Report on “Need for Amending the Law as regards Power of Courts to Restore Criminal Revisional Applications and Criminal Cases Dismissed for Default in Appearance” [1991].
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