This article talks about abetment and criminal conspiracy, the objective of
this article is to focus on the meaning and concept of criminal
conspiracy; Section 120 A and Section 120 B. Section 120 A and 120 B were added
to the code by the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1913, with a view to making
conspiracy a substantive offense. Mere conspiracy to commit an offense has now
been made punishable under Section 120 B. Let us first try to understand the
meaning of the word Criminal Conspiracy
Etymologically the word conspiracy means breathing together; it is not possible
to breathe together unless the heads are put together, hence conspiracy is an
act for which at least two persons are essential. In other words when two or
more persons agree to commit a crime, they are said to have conspired. It is
immaterial whether the crime is committed or not, the persons are called
According to English law; conspiracy is defined as the agreement of two or more
persons to effect any unlawful purpose whether as their ultimate aim or only as
a means to it. This definition consists of four essential ingredients namely:
- Two or more persons
- Unlawful purpose and
- Mens rea (guilty mind)
These elements are also found in definition given in Section 120 A of Indian
Penal Code which reads as; when two or more persons agree to do or cause to be
Such an agreement is designated a criminal conspiracy.
- An illegal act or
- An act which is not illegal by illegal means
Provided that no agreement except an agreement to commit an offense shall amount
a criminal conspiracy unless some act besides the agreement is done by one or
more parties to such agreement in pursuance thereof. It is immaterial whether
the illegal act is the ultimate object of such agreement or is merely incidental
to that object. Conspiracy under the Section 120 A, has the following
- An agreement between two or more persons
- To do or cause to do an illegal act or
- To do an act which is not illegal but by illegal means
- An overt act done in pursuance of the conspiracy in case of number
Thus Section 120 A provides for two kinds of conspiracies:
- Agreement to do or cause to be done an illegal act: In this case mere
agreement is punishable.
- Agreement to do or cause to be done an act which is not illegal, but by
illegal means: In this case some overt act besides the agreement should be
done by one or more parties to such agreement in pursuance there off.
Now let us go through each of the two kinds in detail:
- An agreement to do an illegal act:
Agreement is the gist of the offense, there must be an agreement that need
not to be proof of direct meeting or combination of the parties being
brought into each other's presents. The agreement may be infringed from
circumstances raising a presumption of a common plan to carry out a lawful
An agreement implies meeting of the two minds with reference to a particular
matter and so long as matters are discussed and views are interchanged but
the plan of the action has not been settled by the concurrence of any two or
more of the conspirators, the stage of criminal conspiracy would not be
considered to have been reached.
The only relevant fact is that all means adopted and illegal act done must
be and purported it to be in furtherance of the object of conspiracy, even
though there may be sometimes misfire or overshooting by some of the
conspirators. Even if some steps are resorted to by one or two of the
conspirators without the knowledge of the others it will not affect the
culpability of those others when they are associated with the object of the
In Topan Das Vs. State of Bombay (AIR 1956 SC 33), the Supreme Court
held that there must be two or more persons and one person alone can never
be held guilty of criminal conspiracy, and this view was approved by the
Supreme Court in Haradhan Chakraborty Vs. Union of India (1990 2 SCC
1210). In State of Tamil Nadu Vs. Nalini (1999 Cri.LJ 2516 SC),
commonly known as Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, it was held that the
association of the accused with the main accused or even his knowledge about
the conspiracy would not make the accused a conspirator, because agreement
is the sine qua non of the offence of conspiracy.
It was further made clear that it is not necessary for a conspirator to be
present at the scene of the crime. One person alone cannot conspire, if in
the case two persons have been charged for the offense of conspiracy and if
one is acquitted the other cannot be convicted, even if he confesses his
guilt. He cannot be held for offense of conspiracy.
- Agreement to do an act not illegal but by illegal means:
In this case conspiracy consists in agreeing to do or cause to be done an
act which is not illegal but by illegal means. The term illegal has
been defined in Section 43 IPC, thus an agreement to do or cause to be done
something which in itself may be indifferent or even lawful by unlawful
means amounts to conspiracy in this case.
For example A and B agree to murder C, A goes to purchase a revolver in
false name, both are guilty because A’s illegal act, though not the murder
of C in which B had conspired is yet incidental to that object. in Amrit
lal Hazara and others Vs. Emperor, it was held that the gist of the
offense was in the conspiracy or agreement and if the offense went no
further it might not be possible to say what murders and the coitus it was
proposed to commit or as in the present case, what particular exposes
accused had intended to obtain. The evidence on record was however not found
sufficient to sustain the charge of the conspiracy and the accused were
acquitted. However the appeal of Amrit Lal was dismissed.
Now let us move towards the differences between Section 34 and Section 120 A:Section 34
- Section 34 applies when a criminal act is done in furtherance of the
common intention of all the offenders, whereas Section 120 A deals with an
association to break law even though the illegal act does not follow.
- Section 34 lays down a principle to determine the criminal liability of
persons more than one in the commission of a crime, whereas Section 120
A defines a substantive offense that is; the offense of conspiracy.
Section 120 B; punishment of criminal conspiracy
- Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offense
punishable with death, imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for a
term of two years or upwards, shall wear no express provision is made in
this code for the punishment of such a conspiracy is punished in the same
manner as if he had abetted such offence.
- Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy other than a criminal
conspiracy, to commit an offense punishable as further said shall be
punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding
six months or with fine or with both.
In Sherimon Vs. State of Kerala (2012 I Cri.L J. SC) accused
appellant was engaged in business of auto finance, who hatched conspiracy
with three others to seize auto rickshaw from possession of hirer on account
of default in payment of installments. In pursuance of conspiracy other
accused persons hired auto rickshaw and murdered its driver and took away
Appellant was not present when murder of driver was committed, it was held
that for the offense of conspiracy there must be meeting of minds resulting
in decision taken by conspirators regarding commission of crime. Court held
that evidence on record is totally inadequate to come to conclusion that
appellant and other accused has criminal conspiracy.
Their conviction appellant with aid of Section 120 B is liable to be set
aside. So far as Section 34 of the code is concerned it embodies the
principle of joint liability in the doing of a criminal act, the essence of
that liability being the existence of a common intention. Participation in
the commission of the offense in furtherance of the common intention invites
Let us now try to differentiate between Criminal Conspiracy and Abatement. As
regards the difference between criminal conspiracy and abatement, abetment is
wider of the two; abetment is a genus of which conspiracy is a species.
Abatement may be committed in various ways while conspiracy is one of them.
Abetment is not a substantive offence, while criminal conspiracy is a
substantive offense by itself.
These are the main points of distinction between the two:
- Conspiracy is a process by which an agreement is entered into between
two or more persons for Commission of an illegal act or doing a legal act by
illegal means. The parties’ agreements are called conspirators. Abetment is
a process by which one or more engage others for commission of an offense.
The former who abets is called abettor, while the later who commits the
offence is called the principal offender.
- Conspiracy can be committed by two or more. Abetment can be committed by
one or more number.
- Section 120 A and Section 120 B deal with criminal conspiracy, Sections
107 to 120 deal with abatement.
- Conspiracy is one of the methods of abatement. Abatement can be
committed in various methods namely instigation, conspiracy, intentional aid
- Conspiracy is a substantive offence, whereas abatement is not a
So with this article we understood that, under the Indian Penal Code, a
person becomes liable as an abettor if he instigates another to commit a crime,
or engages in a criminal conspiracy with another to commit a crime and some act
is done in furtherance of such conspiracy or if he intentionally aids another in
order to facilitate the commission of a crime.
Written By: Avhirup Kumar Ghosh -
Presidency University, Bangalore