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An Extensive Study On Abetment And Criminal Conspiracy

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 conspirators.

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:
  • Agreement
  • 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 done:
  • An illegal act or
  • An act which is not illegal by illegal means

Such an agreement is designated a criminal conspiracy.
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 essentials:
  • 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 three.

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 design.

    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 conspiracy.

    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 As 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 auto rickshaw.

    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 its applications.

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 etc.
  • Conspiracy is a substantive offence, whereas abatement is not a substantive offence.
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

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