Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is a legal provision that deals with the procedure that the police and the magistrate need to follow in cases of suicide and unnatural death. If a person does not die because of natural conditions, a person is considered to have died unnaturally. Unnatural deaths are caused by accidental deaths, assassinations, animal attack, operational complications, suicide, and much more.

Suicide can be defined as deliberate killing or death. Suicide is not allowed under Indian law and therefore the punishment laid down in Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code includes any person seeking suicide. If a person attempts suicide, he is detained for one year on a fine at the discretion of the court or both. Several attempts were made to remove Section 309 of the IPC, but the attempts were not. Now that the Mental Health Act 2017 has been adopted, suicide attempts in India are no longer a crime.


Why Unnatural Death?

There is no suspicion of the death of a person, if a person dies naturally. But death is caused by circumstances which have to be explained and examined in the event of unnatural death. It is the duty of the State to ensure every citizen of the country’s health and life. If there is any crime, the crime is against the state. When an individual dies due to an unnatural situation the State has a responsibility to identify the cause of death and the State has to take appropriate steps to punish the guilty person if suspicions are found about the cause of death. To ensure proceedings in the event that a person dies unnaturally, Section 174 was established that sets out the proceedings for untimely killing by the police officer and the Judge.


Inquest Report under Section 174 CrPC:

In order for the deaths to be unnatural, an executive judge shall prepare an enquiry report containing the minute details concerning the cause of the death of a person on the notification of the Station House Officer or of another policeman specifically authorised by the State government. District Magistrate, District Additional Magistrate, Sub divisionary Magistrate or Mandal Executive Magistrate prepare the Inquest Report particularly authorised by the Government of the State on the basis of sudden and unexplained deaths.

The deaths referred to in Section 174 are:

  • Murder
  • Suicide
  • Death by machinery
  • Animal attack
  • Or death under circumstances raising reasonable suspicion that some other person has committed an offense.

The magistrate shall investigate the cause of death for the preparation of the report. In his report, the judge must describe the apparent cause of death, describing the smallest details he encounters when the dead body is investigated. Some of the details that the magistrate must describe are:

·    The surrounding nature of the dead body.
·    Any wounds, fractures, contusions and other marks on the body. The judge must state whether the mark is at birth, or else that caused the life of a person,         in which any injury or other mark occurred on the body.
·    The marks if any weapon or instrument causes them.

Section 174(3):

A large number of deaths caused by the demand for dowry were reported in 1983. After marriage, women who were able to pay the demand were brutally treated or murdered. The Parliament introduced Section 304-B into the Indian Penal Code, in 1986, to control the inflammatory situation of dowry death.

Section 498-A of the Criminal Law Amending Act, 1983 (Act 46 of 1983), which punishes husband or relative’s cruelty to a female for any illegal demand for property or safety, or because of a failure on the part of the male or female relative to fulfil the demand, also inserts Parliamentarians in it, which obliges her, to commit suicide or causes serious harm or damage.

The 1983 crime change Act introduced Cl. 3 to prevent increasing incidents of dowry deaths into the Code of Criminal Procedure in 1973. This sub-section says that if a woman’s death occurs during the period of seven years of marriage and if there is reasonable suspicion that a woman has died in this respect of offence under IPC Sections 304-B and 498-A, the police officer should be entitled to send the department to a post-mortem review under the rules which can be prescribed in this name by the State Government.

The police must fulfil two conditions to exercise this discretion:

  • Death of woman is caused within seven years of marriage.
  • A request is made by any relative of the woman in this behalf.

If the condition of the weather and the distance allow that the weather has been transmitted on the road, with no risk of such a putrefaction (decline or rot in an organic matter) as the examination would make useless, then the body may be transmitted to another qualified health worker appointed in that name by the State Government.

In sub-section (3) there is the discretion of not sending the dead body for medical exams, where a police officer has absolutely no doubt about the cause of death. It must be wise and honest to exercise discretion.


Police Investigation in case of Suicides:

The entry into force of the 2017 Mental Health Act decriminalised suicides. Section 115 of that Act does not cover the provisions of Section 309 of the IPC; if no such proof is shown to be otherwise, the person committing suicide may be considered innocent. A person cannot be arrested now, therefore, because he or she has tried and does not commit suicide. In cases of suicide abetment there is no restriction on the submission of the FIR. When an individual commits suicide, the Medical Examiner has the obligation to decide whether the cause of the person’s death is due to natural, accidental, murderous or suicidal.

The police officer has a duty to gather evidence of the way in which suicide is killed. The proof is physical, documentary or circumstantial. Fingerprint, blood, etc., are physical evidence. Documentary evidence includes on paper testimonials or documents. The chronological presentation of facts is circumstantial evidence.

If the inquiry shows that an individual has suicided, the FIR shall be lodged and arrested on the person. In the event that Police are unwilling to file a FIR, then a private complaint may be filed with the Court of the judiciary in accordance with Section 156[3] of the Criminal Process Code. If suicide investigation is incorrectly ruled out, then unnecessary grief lies on the family of the deceased. The inquiry must therefore be carried out with extreme care.

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