Classification of Offences under Indian Law by Rashi Goel@ Lexcliq

Crimes are classified primarily for the need to provide a better understanding of criminal law. Classification of crimes is a necessity that is undertaken by nations for the better functioning of the criminal justice system. Offences can be categorised in many ways. It can be categorized on the basis of subject matter i.e. offences committed against the body, offences committed property, offences committed against the honour, or it can be classified in terms of severity of crime also i.e. most serious crimes known as felonies, less serious crime than felonies known as Misdemeanors, and least serious crimes known as Infractions. As Indian criminal legal system is based upon common law and accordingly the offences are classified broadly into three categories-

  • Cognizable and Non-cognizable offences

Cognizable offence-

All offences can be categorized on the basis of ‘cognizable’ and ‘non-cognizable as defined in The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Section 2(c) of the Code defines cognizable offence as “an offence for which a police officer may, in accordance with the First Schedule of the Code or under any other law, arrest without warrant”. 

The Criminal Procedure Code gives no guidelines to determine what offences shall be cognizable and what shall be non-cognizable. However, for offences under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Schedule I of the Criminal Procedure Code expressly provides whether the particular offence shall be cognizable or non-cognizable. Such Schedule has the force of law and similar provision may also be made under another statute. The words ‘under any law for the time being in force’ used in Section 2(C) give the provision a wider scope to include all express and implied provisions of any enactment.

For a general understanding, it can be said that all offences of serious nature are regarded as cognizable. The nature of the offence is proportionately related to the quantum of punishment—the bigger the crime, the more severe the punishment. Regarding offences under other laws (means other than the Indian Penal Code), Schedule I makes it clear that if the offence is punishable with imprisonment for three years or more then it shall be regarded as a cognizable offence. On the other hand, if an offence is punishable with imprisonment of fewer than three years or is punishable with a fine only then the offence shall be considered as non-cognizable.

The term “a police officer” used in the definition of a cognizable offence does not include all the police officers but the officer of a certain rank. The fact, that an offender can be arrested by a police officer of a certain rank or by a particular class of police officers only, does not affect the cognizable nature of the offence in any way. The categorization of cognizable offence is based on the sound reasoning that an offender should not escape due to formal requirements and technicalities of legal procedure. There is a class of offences in which police cannot wait to obtain an arrest warrant from a Magistrate because it might afford the offender the opportunity to escape or enable him to cause distortion or manipulation of material evidence.

The cognizable offences are of serious nature and are regarded as the crime against the society. In such cases, it is the responsibility of the State to bring the culprit to justice. The state has given wide power and authority to police to maintain law and order and establish peace in the society which is the primary requirement of any welfare state. Police have the power and authority to arrest the accused of the cognizable offence without any authorization from a magistrate. Furthermore, police can make an arrest to prevent the commission of the cognizable offence without any arrest warrant if they come to know about a design to commit such an offence.

The term ‘may arrest’ used in the definition of cognizable offence connotes that arrest is not a mandatory requirement for cognizable offences. Rather, the police are left with the discretion to arrest and investigate or to investigate without arresting the accused. However, such discretion is not to be exercised arbitrarily and the police must be guided by the principles laid down by the higher judicial authorities.

Non-cognizable Offence-

The term non-cognizable offence is defined as “an offence for which a police officer has no authority to arrest without warrant” [1]. Non-cognizable offences are regarded as minor offences as compared to cognizable ones. In non-cognizable offences, injury caused to the society is usually not of serious nature and hence in such cases, the aggrieved person himself is expected to initiate criminal proceedings by filing a complaint with the appropriate authority.

The nature of non-cognizable offences is considered very close to a private wrong and this is the reason that in such cases the collection of evidence and the prosecution of the accused are mainly dependent on the initiative and efforts of the private individual.

In a non-cognizable offence, no police officer can make an arrest without a warrant by the magistrate. Furthermore, the police officer cannot even investigate the matter except under the authority of the Magistrate. Police can be directed by a Judicial Magistrate to investigate a non-cognizable case if the Magistrate is of the view that it is desirable to investigate such a case by the police. When directed, police officers shall have all the powers in respect of investigation as if the offence was a cognizable one except the power to arrest without a warrant [2]

As a general principle, the offences of serious nature are made cognizable and non-serious offences are put in the category of non-cognizable. Nevertheless, there are some small offences that are declared as cognizable ones, for example being a member of unlawful assembly [3] is made a cognizable offence because if no immediate action is taken to suppress and destroy the unlawful assembly, serious consequences may ensue. On the other hand, there are some offences of serious nature that are declared as non-cognizable, for ex- forgery [4], procuring miscarriage [5] etc. Even though there is the absence of express guidelines in the Code of Criminal Procedure to classify cognizable and non-cognizable offences if we analyze as to what offences are made cognizable and what offences non-cognizable, we can very well understand the principle upon which this categorization is based. There are certain offences under different statutes apart from the Indian Penal Code that is made cognizable because immediate action to curb the evil is needed for the welfare of the society as well as maintaining law and order therein. The offences falling under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; the offence under section 7 of the Essential Commodities Act; the offences relating to food adulteration [6], etc. are cognizable offences.

  • Bailable and Non-Bailable Offences

The bailable offence is defined as an offence that is shown as bailable in the Ist Schedule of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 or which is declared as bailable by any other law for the time being in force [7]. Non-bailable offences are simply those offences that do not come under the aforesaid category, meaning thereby all other offences are put into the category of non-bailable. 

Bail simply means the security, usually, a sum of money exchanged for the release of an arrested person as a guarantee of that person’s appearance for trial. Bail can be given by the person accused of a crime or on his behalf.

Taking into account the social justice, freedom of individual and right of indigent persons, the provision of bail requires liberal interpretation and covers release on personal bond whether with or without sureties. The demand for surety and its amount depending on circumstances and other factors of the case. 

The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 does not provide guidelines or criteria to fix whether any particular offence falling under the Indian Penal Code shall be bailable or non-bailable. Instead, the Code provides a list of bailable and non-bailable offences in its Ist Schedule. However, regarding offences falling under other statutes, there is a guideline in the Schedule itself that if the offence is punishable with imprisonment of three years or more then such offence has to be considered as non-bailable and if the offence is punishable with imprisonment less than three years or with fine then only such offence is regarded as bailable one. Accordingly, as a general rule barring few exceptions, it can be said that offences of serious nature have been categorized as non-bailable whereas offences of non-serious nature have been put into the category of bailable ones.

In a bailable offence, the bail is granted either by police or by the court as a matter of right available to the person accused of a crime. In such cases, bail cannot be denied if the person is ready to furnish a bond. The fact that the accused person is arrested with or without a warrant does not affect this precious right in any way. Moreover, when a police officer arrests any person who is not accused of a non-bailable offence, then such an officer is under a legal obligation to inform the arrested person about his entitlement of release on bail and arrangement for sureties for that purpose [8]

The term non-bailable offence does not signify that bail cannot be granted at all in any such case. In such cases bail cannot be demanded as a matter of right rather it lies upon the discretion of the court. The Court of Sessions and the High Courts have been bestowed with wide discretionary power to grant bail to the accused of non-bailable offences [9]. However, there are certain limitations imposed on inferior courts to grant bail in non-bailable offences such as no accused shall be released on bail if the court has reason to believe that the accused is guilty of an offence punishable with death or life imprisonment. Similarly, bail shall be denied if the offence is a cognizable one and he has been previously convicted of an offence punishable with imprisonment of seven years or more. However, in aforesaid cases bail may be granted if the accused is under the age of sixteen years or is a woman or is a sick or infirm person [10].

  • Compoundable and Non-compoundable offences

The compounding of offence comes into the picture when parties settle or adjust their dispute out of some understanding between them primarily by an acceptance of some consideration or gratification by the victim in lieu of dropping prosecution against the accused. However, the compounding of offence should not be confused with a compromise between the parties. Compounding can be done only in respect of those offences which are expressly mentioned by the Code. Further, the compounding of offence has the effect of acquittal of the accused.

Code of Criminal Procedure provides a list of offences [11] defined under the Indian Penal Code which is compoundable in nature. It has also been provided in the Code that as to who shall be entitled to compound the offence. Compoundable offences are of two categories, firstly the offences which can be compounded without the permission of the court and secondly the offences which can be compounded only with the prior permission or consent of the court before which the prosecution of that very offence is pending [12].

The criminal Courts in India are overburdened with the ever-increasing cases and in such a situation the provisions like compounding of offences greatly help in easing the pressure upon the courts. Compounding of offences is based upon a very sound logic that if parties are interested in ending the ongoing dispute between them which is almost of personal nature then there is no point in keeping that dispute alive and putting an extra burden upon the judicial system. Thus, the time saved by the courts can be fruitfully utilized in deciding disputes of a more important nature. However, it must be kept in mind that the aim of the law is to maintain peace and order in the society and this is the reason that law does not provide for the compounding of those offences which causes a potential threat to the peace and order in the society. The guilty of such offences cannot escape punishment by arriving at a settlement or mutual understanding with the victim or their family.

The mere arrangement of a future settlement of the dispute by an act of the parties themselves or by a third person cannot be regarded as the compounding of offence. Further, an agreement between the parties to refer that matter to arbitration is not a final settlement of the dispute and hence the compounding cannot be affected.

Compounding of offence is different from a withdrawal of the complaint. In withdrawal, the prior permission of the court is a must whereas, in composition, there are a number of offences for which the permission of the court is not required. The withdrawal results from the act of the complainant and without the consent of the accused but in case of compounding an agreement or understanding between the parties is presupposed and consent of the accused can clearly be inferred. On the withdrawal of the complaint, the magistrate is empowered to award compensation to the accused whereas there is no such provision of compensation in case of composition.

Offences that are not included in Section 320 of the Criminal Procedure Code are non-compoundable offences. An agreement to compound a non-cognizable offence is void and against public policy. Even the High Court in the exercise of its inherent power under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure cannot give permission to compound a non-compoundable offence.


[1] The Code of Criminal Procedure, Section 2(l) (1973).

[2] The Code of Criminal Procedure, Section 155(1973).

[3] The Indian Penal Code, punishable under Section 143 (1860).

[4]  The Indian Penal Code, Defined under Section 463 (1860).

[5] The Indian Penal Code, punishable under Section 312 (1860).

[6] Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (1954).

[7] The Code of Criminal Procedure, bailable Offence is defined under Section 2(a) (1973).

[8] The Code of Criminal Procedure, Section 50(2) (1973).

[9] The Code of Criminal Procedure, Section 439 (1973).

[10] The Code of Criminal Procedure, Section 437 (1973).

[11] The Code of Criminal Procedure, Provided under Section 320 (1973). 

[12] The Code of Criminal Procedure, Sub-Sections (1) and (2) of Section 320 (1973).


Leave a Reply

custom vape boxes

Bulk Buying: How To Choose The Right Vape Boxes Wholesale

Are you looking to stock up on vape boxes? Buying in bulk can save you money and ensure that you have enough supplies for your vaping needs. However, not all wholesale suppliers are created equal. To make sure you choose the right vape box supplier, there are several factors to consider. First, it’s important to […]

Read More

Everything You Need to Know About Lorazepam Kaufen: Safety, Dosage, and Side Effects

Are you familiar with Lorazepam? This medication is commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, insomnia, and seizures. If you are considering buying Lorazepam or have already purchased it, there are important safety measures to keep in mind. In this blog post, we will cover everything you need to know about Lorazepam Kaufen – including proper […]

Read More

SEO for Small Businesses: Cost-Effective Strategies for Success

In today’s digital landscape, search engine optimization (SEO) has become an essential component for small businesses looking to thrive online. By implementing cost-effective strategies, small businesses can enhance their online presence, drive organic traffic, and ultimately achieve success in a competitive digital marketplace. This article aims to explore the realm of SEO for small businesses, […]

Read More