Difference between FIR & Complaint

5 Oct 2021  Read 52509 Views

As it is widely acclaimed that “Crime prevention is everybody’s business”, thus, the primary objective of our criminal law is to protect the law and order in society from the criminals and the law breakers. This leads us to an important question that is how we can contribute to the same? The simple answer is to report the occurrence of an offence. 

In India, this reporting can be done either by Registering a First Information Report or lodging a Complaint, which has been provided under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. These two terms are often used interchangeably by a layman. However, this is not the case. There is an underlying difference between the two.

The key difference between an FIR and a Complaint

Filing an FIR or a complaint can be a daunting task for a person. But it is an indispensable task and duty to report any crime that one has witnessed. Without it, the police cannot begin their investigation. There are two prevalent mechanisms through which the commission of an offence can be reported to the concerned authorities: Either through a First Information Report (FIR) under S.154 of CrPC or through lodging a Complaint to the Magistrate. Therefore, it is important to know the key difference between the two mechanisms so that one can make a correct choice.

The reporting mechanisms for an offence under CrPC

The primary agency to carry out investigations in India is the police. As mentioned under Section 39 CrPC, it is the duty of the public to give information to the police in respect of the commission of certain serious offences. The mechanism of bringing the commission of offence within the knowledge of the designated authorities depends on the nature of the offence that has been committed.

Cognizable and Non-cognizable offences

The offences under the criminal procedure code can be bifurcated into cognizable and non-cognizable offences. The cognizable offence, as defined under S.2(c) CrPC, means an offence in which a police officer may, in accordance with the First Schedule, arrest without a warrant. These offences are public wrongs and are considered to be serious offences. For instance, Rape, murder etc. On the other hand, Non-cognizable offence, as defined under S.2(l) CrPC means an offence for which a police officer has no authority to arrest without a warrant. They are generally private wrongs, less serious and trivial offences. Pertaining to the underlying difference between these two types of offences, their reporting mechanism is also different. The information to the police regarding the commission of a cognizable offence can be given by any person under section 154 CrPC, i.e. through an FIR. However, irrespective of the nature of the offence, a complaint can be made for both types of offences.

First Information Report or Information in cognizable cases under Section 154 CrPC

The statement of information regarding the commission of a cognizable offence recorded under section 154 CrPC is termed the first information report or FIR. A brief analysis of Section 154 CrPC can be summarized under the following points:

  • The information regarding the commission of a cognizable offence has to be given to the officer in charge of the police station who has jurisdiction for investigating the case (S.154(1))

  • If the information is given orally, it has to be reduced to writing by the officer, either himself or under his direction (S.154(1)).

  • If the information is given in writing or reduced to writing, it has to be signed by the informant, and the information taken down has to be read over to the informant. The informant shall be given a copy of the information as recorded. (S.154(2)). However, non-supply of the copy may not vitiate the trial in every case.

-The Advantages of registering an FIR 

  • It is the first step to access to justice for a victim

  • It aids in swift verification 

  • It upholds the rule of law. 

  • In SK. Hasib Vs. State of Kerala, the Court has held that the principal object of FIR from informant’s point of view is to set the criminal law in motion. 

-Is registering an FIR mandatory?

In Lalita Kumari vs Govt. of U.P. the court has held that the provisions of S.154(1) CrPC are mandatory, and the officer concerned is duty-bound to register the case on the basis of information disclosed regarding the commission of the cognizable offence. However, if no cognizable offence is made out, then, in that case, FIR need not be registered immediately. In case, the police refuse to register the complaint, the remedy has been provided under S.154(3) wherein the informant may send the information in writing to the Superintendent of Police concerned. 

-Evidentiary value of FIR

It is a settled principle of law that FIR does not have substantive evidentiary value but can only be used to corroborate the information provided under S.157 Indian Evidence Act 1872 or to contradict the informant when called as a witness under S.145 of the Act. 


In the case of cognizable offences, the investigation by the police officer is initiated under S.157 after registering an FIR.

Concept of Complaint 

The term “Complaint” has been defined under S.2(d) CrPC, which means any allegation made orally or in writing to a magistrate with a view to his taking action under this code that some person has committed an offence. It does not include a police report. Also, if, after preliminary investigation, it is discovered that the offence is a non-cognizable offence, then it shall be deemed to be a complaint.

-To whom a complaint can be made

S.190(1)(a) CrPC empowers any first-class magistrate or second-class magistrate to take cognizance of any offence upon receiving a complaint of facts which constitute such offence. Cognizance means that the magistrate has applied his mind to the offence alleged in the complaint. A private citizen may lodge a complaint before a competent Judicial Magistrate irrespective of whether the offence is cognizable or non-cognizable. The Magistrate can examine the complainant and any witness under oath under section 200 CrPC. The Magistrate can then issue a 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. The Magistrate is even empowered to dismiss the complaint under Section 203 CrPC if there is no substance found in the complaint.


In an over-populated country like ours where a plethora of offences are committed, FIR and complaint are necessary tools. A crime is a wrong against the society at large. The ultimate objective of both of them is to inform the authorities and to prevent its occurrence. Informing the commission of an offence is an indispensable process in our Criminal Justice System.

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