In simple terms, cognizance means knowledge, whereas offence means anything which is declared unlawful. In legal terms, the acts which are declared wrong under the substantive law are called as offence. On the other hand, cognizance means taking action by police officer, whenever a police receive any information he has to take cognizance.

Now the question arises where the police has power to take cognizance, or where they have to take permission? To answer this, offences have been classified under two categories i.e. cognizable and non cognizable offence under schedule 1 of Code of Criminal Procedure Code. Cognizable offence are more serious crime while non cognizable are less serious crime.

What are cognizable offences?

Cognizable offences are the offences in which a police officer can arrest without warrant. While defining the cognizable offences we can extract three different terms i.e. offence, police officer and warrant. Our country has certain laws and if someone breaks that law that is known as “offence”. Police officer means a person who carries out his duties under the police act. Warrant means a legal document issued by the duty magistrate or any other person authorised to issue to arrest any person.

Our substantive law clearly states that which offences are cognizable and which are not; such as it is written under the head of classification of offence in Indian Penal Code, 1860 and also in first schedule of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 herein referred to as CRPC. Generally the cognizable offences are more serious in nature and there are chances that the person who has committed that offence ran away.

What are non-cognizable offences?

Non-Cognizable offences are the offences in which a police officer cannot arrest anyone without warrant. The definition of non cognizable offence is given under sec 2(c) of CRPC.  The classification of offences is given under the first schedule of CRPC. The crime under non cognizable head is less serious in nature.

Powers of Police Officer in both categories of offences:

Cognizable offences

In cognizable offence the police officer after receiving the information from complainant or any other source can directly right the complaint and can go to the spot for arrest. The complaint for the offences which are against women such as offence of rape must be written by the female police officer.

If there is any offence which is against woman and due to that offence she is temporarily or permanently disable and unfit to come to the police station to record the FIR (First information Report) then the information should be recorded at victims place or at any place of victim choice, moreover that recording should be video graphed. Police officer can start the investigation immediately without waiting for the orders of magistrate.

Non-Cognizable offences

As non cognizable offences are less serious in nature therefore the police officer cannot arrest the accused without warrant. After writing the information received by the complaint the police officer has to wait for the order of magistrate for further investigation.

What is the difference between cognizable offence and non cognizable offence?

  • Cognizable offences are the offences in which police officer can arrest a person without warrant whereas in non-cognizable offences a police officer has to take permission from the magistrate before arresting the person, means an arrest warrant duly signed by the duty magistrate is required.
  • Cognizable offences are serious in nature whereas non cognizable offences are less serious in nature.
  • Permission of court is not required in cognizable offences for the purpose of investigation whereas in non cognizable offences prior permission of court is necessary for initiating investigation.
  • Section 2(c) of CRPC defines cognizable offences whereas the definition of non cognizable offence is given under Section 2(l) of CRPC.

What if the case is both the cognizable and non cognizable offence?

If there are more than one offence and all are the combination of cognizable and non cognizable offence then in that case the procedure for cognizable cases is followed.


The distinction between the two categories is vital to understand the powers of police authorities, procedure of investigation, and so on. In cognizable offences the police authorities are vested with powers to arrest the accused and to embark upon an investigation on their own without seeking prior permission of the concerned Magistrate. This step is taken in order to apprehend the accused at earliest since cognizable offences are serious crime. Presumably the accused in such cases can cause harm to other people in society. However, this is not the case in non cognizable offences. To sum up, the procedure to investigate remains the same in both the categories and only the initial process i.e. the arrest of the accused, is different in both.

Surbhi Singla

Associate at Aggarwals & Associates, S.A.S. Nagar, Mohali

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