From Justice Definitions Project

What is Complaint?

According to the Criminal Procedure Code (“CrPC”), the term ‘Complaint’ refers to any assertion made orally or in writing to a magistrate with the intention of him taking action in accordance with this code, that a person has committed an offence. It excludes the police report. Additionally, it will be regarded as a complaint if preliminary investigation reveals that the offence is of a cognizable nature.

Any first-class or second-class magistrate may take cognizance of any offence upon receiving a complaint of the circumstances that form the offence. The Magistrate can then issue process against the accused and start an inquiry into the matter himself or direct an investigation to be conducted by a police officer or by a person considered fit to decide whether there are sufficient grounds for proceeding or not. If the Magistrate determines that the allegation lacks substance, the case may even be dismissed.

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

FIR Complaint
Not defined in CrPC Defined under s. 2(d), CrPC
Report made by a citizen to the authorities A formal document prepared by the police based on the complaint
It is the first step in the criminal justice process and investigation by the police begins after an FIR is filed A  complaint does not necessarily lead to an investigation
An FIR is registered only for cognizable offenses A complaint can be filed for both cognizable and non-cognizable offenses
An FIR has to be lodged at the police station closest to the place where the crime occurred A complaint can be filed with a metropolitan magistrate or equivalent court

Official Definition of Complaint

According to Section 2(d), CrPC, a complaint is any claim made verbally or in writing to a magistrate with the intention of having him take action in accordance with this code that a person has committed an offence.[1] According to Section 190, CrPC, anyone can approach a qualified judicial magistrate and file a complaint on 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.

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), CrPC.[2] The report and investigation cannot be recognised as a complaint under Section 2(d) or 190(1)(a) of the Code 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), CrPC applies to cases where the investigation is started into an alleged cognizable offence but after investigation, a non-cognizable offence is found to have 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 under that provision.[3]

Protest Petition: 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: As per Section 203, CrPC, if the Magistrate determines that there are insufficient grounds for proceedings after taking the statements of the complainants and all the witnesses and the outcome of the investigation as per Section 202 into consideration, he must dismiss the complaint and register his explanations the same.

Second Complaint: If the claimant's initial complaint was dismissed by the Magistrate under Section 203, CrPC, 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 foolish, 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 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 overs the phone. Written complaints include those in a electronic format, complaints initiated suo-moto by police, court complaints etc.

Appearance in Official Databases

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. However, the particulars of each complaint are not available on the public domain.[11]

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.[12] 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.

Research that engages with Complaint

233rd Law Commission of India Report recommends amendments to sections 249 and 256 of the CrPC, 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. Such a recommendation was previously given by the 12th Law Commission of India in its 141st Report.[13]


  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. Available at
  13. 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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