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Criminal Conspiracy: Section 120, IPC

Conspiracy means a combination of two or more persons for unlawful purposes. It is an agreement between two or more persons to commit an illegal act. Criminal conspiracy is a substantive offence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860(I.P.C.). Generally, the accused is charged with the offence of criminal conspiracy along with the charge of some other substantive offence under the I.P.C. or any other law. Chapter V-A of the I.P.C. as inserted in 1913 deals with the offence of criminal conspiracy. In this article, an attempt is made to analyze the substantive offence of criminal conspiracy with the help of relevant case laws.

Section 120A of the I.P.C. defines criminal conspiracy as an agreement of two or more persons to do or cause to be done:
  1. An illegal act, or;
  2. An act that is not illegal by illegal means.
Section 43 of the I.P.C. defines the term illegal' as everything that is an offence or is prohibited by law or furnishes ground for a civil action.

The Proviso attached to Section 120A provides that a mere agreement to commit an offence shall amount to criminal conspiracy and no overt act or illegal omission is required to be proved. Such overt act is necessary only when the object of the conspiracy is the commission of an illegal act not amounting to an offence. It is immaterial whether the illegal act is the ultimate object of such agreement or is merely incidental to that object.

Essentials Of Criminal Conspiracy

The essentials of this section can be outlined as:
  1. There should be an agreement between two or more persons.
    There must be an agreement between two or more persons. If the conspirators commit several offences in accordance with the criminal conspiracy, all of them shall be liable for the offences, even if some of them did not actively participate in the commission of the crimes.
  2. Such an agreement should be done:
     To do an illegal act
    To make a person liable for the criminal conspiracy, the agreement must be to do any act which is either forbidden by law or is opposed to the law.
    (b) Or to do a legal act by illegal means
    When any act is done even though it is lawful but done by illegal means, it constitutes criminal conspiracy.
     
  3. The agreement may be expressed or implied or partly expressed and partly implied.
  4. As soon as the agreement is made, the conspiracy arises, and the offence is committed.
  5. And, the same offence is continued to be committed so long as the combination persists.

The Supreme Court has outlined the above mentioned essential ingredients of criminal conspiracy in R Venkatkrishnan vs CBI.

Critical Analysis
The main object behind the introduction of Section 120A and 120B to the Code, appears to be an attempt to curb criminal thoughts before they take the form of a concrete criminal act, detrimental to the society at large. According to Section 43 of the Code, an illegal' act under the Indian Penal Code would imply the commission of an offence, or of an act forbidden by law, or of an act which lays ground for a civil liability to arise. For the establishment of the offence of criminal conspiracy, the existence of an agreement between the parties is a sine qua non. This agreement may be express or implied, the important factor is consensus ad idem, i.e., meeting of minds.

The agreement must be read as a whole and the object ascertained. It is not necessary that more than one person must always be convicted for the offence of criminal conspiracy, it is sufficient if the court is convinced that more two or persons were actually involved in the conspiracy. The offender might join the conspiracy from the start itself or at any time before the completion of the objective of the agreement, irrespective of the time of joining, each party to the offence would be held equally responsible. A criminal conspiracy is said to persist as long as the parties to the agreement continue to act in furtherance of the objects of the agreement.

Proof Of Conspiracy

The offence of criminal conspiracy can be proved by either direct or circumstantial evidence. A conspiracy is usually hatched in a secret and private setting which is why it is almost impossible to produce any affirmative evidence about the date of the formation of the criminal conspiracy, the persons involved in it or the object of such conspiracy or how such object is to be carried out. All of this is more or less a matter of inference.

It was believed that agreement or meeting of minds is the one of the main evidence to prove the conspiracy under this section & also it is one of the hardest one to prove because as we all known to the fact that offender by himself does not agree to a fact that he is involved with someone It is only matter of circumstances that one can prove that there is a meeting of minds or an agreement between those two. Hence, criminal conspiracy is based on circumstantial evidence in most of the cases there is no direct evidence to prove the same.
Also, point to be noted that there is no conspiracy between husband & wife because they are considered as the one person.

Section 10 Of Indian Evidence Act, 1872

Section 10 of the Indian Evidence Act contains the principle that once a conspiracy to commit an illegal act is proved, an act of one conspirator becomes the act of another. Section 10 deals with the admissibility of evidence in a conspiracy case. It provides that anything said, done or written by any one of the conspirators in respect of their common intention is admissible against all the conspirators for proving the existence of the conspiracy or that any such person was a party to the conspiracy. However, the following conditions are to be satisfied before such fact can be admitted:
  1. There should be reasonable ground to believe that two or more persons have conspired to commit an offence or an actionable wrong.
  2. Anything said, done or written by any one of them about their common intention will be evidence against the others provided it is said, done or written after the time when such intention was first formed by any one of them.

Punishment Of Criminal Conspiracy

Punishment for criminal conspiracy is contained under section 120B of the Indian Penal Code. The punishment for Section 120A (criminal conspiracy) depends upon the nature of the offence. If the agreement is to commit a serious offence, the punishment is more severe.

Where a person conspires to commit an offence that is punishable either by death or by imprisonment of life or by rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or above, and no express provision is made in the Code for its punishment, then he will be liable for punishment in the same manner as if he had abetted such an offence. Abet means to encourage or assist someone in doing a crime.

If the conspiracy exists between two or more persons to commit an offence which is not mentioned above, that is, offences which are not punishable with death, imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two or more than two years, such a person will be punished with the imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months, or with fine, or with both.

Case Laws

Parveen Vs State Of Haryana (2021) Sc

The brief facts of the case are: Four accused were being escorted by the police from the Central Jail, Jaipur by train to be produced in the Court of CJM, Bhiwani. On reaching the Railway Station Nangal Pathani, four young boys entered their compartment, attacked the police party and tried to rescue the accused.

The accused, who were in custody also tried to escape and an attempt was also made to snatch the official carbine. It was alleged that one of the accused fired upon the Head Constable, who got injured and later succumbed to his injuries. One accused was apprehended and the other three fled. The accused were charged under offences Sections 224, 225, 332, 353, 392, 307, 302, 120-B of the IPC and for certain offences under the Arms Act.

The accused were held guilty by the Sessions Court and on appeal, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana confirmed their conviction. The appellant Parveen @ Sonu filed an appeal in the Supreme Court.

The Hon'ble Supreme Court held that it is not safe to hold a person guilty for offences under Section 120B I.P.C. in absence of any evidence to show a meeting of minds between the conspirators for the intended object of committing an illegal act. The Court ordered the acquittal of the appellant and held that it is not safe to maintain the conviction of the accused on the alleged confessional statements of the co-accused in absence of any other corroborative evidence.

Kehar Singh And Others Vs State (Delhi Administration) (1988) Sc

The Hon'ble Supreme Court, in this case, has held that the most important ingredient of the offence of conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to do an illegal act. Such an illegal act may or may not be done in pursuance of the agreement, but the very agreement is an offence and is punishable.

Major E.G. Barsay Vs The State Of Bombay (1962) Sc

In this case, it was held that an agreement to break the law constitutes the gist of the offence of criminal conspiracy under Section 120A IPC. The parties to such an agreement are guilty of criminal conspiracy even if the illegal act agreed to be done by them has not been done. The Court also held that it is not an ingredient of the offence of criminal conspiracy that all the parties should agree to do a single illegal act and a conspiracy may comprise the commission of several acts.

Param Hans Yadav Vs State Of Bihar, 1987

In this case, it was observed that it is difficult to support the charges of conspiracy with direct evidence the only way by which the one can prove is criminal conspiracy the prosecution has to establish the link between the different chain events.

State Of Tamil Nadu Vs Nalini

This is commonly known as the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. In this case, it was held that knowledge about conspiracy would not make an accused a conspirator. It was held that also to provide the harbour to the main accused didn't show the sufficient evidence that person is in the conspiracy you have to prove that there is a meeting of minds between the parties.

Hiralal Harilal Bhagwati Vs Cbi

It was believed that to set up the charges of conspiracy first you have to establish that there is an agreement between the parties.

Ram Narain Popli Vs C.B.I. (2003) Sc

In this case, the Supreme Court held that mere proof of the agreement between two or more persons to do an unlawful act or an act by unlawful means is enough to convict the parties for criminal conspiracy under Section 120B.

Poulterer's Case (1611)

In this case, the criminal aspect of conspiracy was developed for the first time by the Star Chamber and conspiracy was recognized as a substantive offence.

Brief facts of the case are: One Walters along with other defendants imputed a false charge of robbery on Stone and did everything possible to ruin his family's reputation. Rumors were spread that Stone was a gentleman thief and a knave. However, Stone had an alibi and brought some 30 people to attest that he was in London on the day the alleged robbery took place. The jury found an ignoramus and Stone was discharged. Thereafter, Stone brought an action before the Star Chamber to clear himself of the imputations leveled against him and vindicate his reputation. The defendants attempted to settle the matter out of court and also tried to persuade Stone to drop the suit. However, when the process started, the defendants accused Stone of barratry and also intimated some of his witnesses. The court held that the mere presence of conspiracy among the defendants, irrespective of whether Stone was falsely indicted or acquitted is the gist of the offence and can be considered a crime.

Bimbdhar Pradhan Vs State Of Orissa, 1956

In this case, the Supreme Court held that one person could also be convicted for the offence of conspiracy. It is sufficient that the court proves that two or more than two persons were actually involved in the criminal conspiracy. Where the prosecution proves that two or more persons were connected in a conspiracy and they could not be caught, one alone can still be convicted.

Mulcahy Vs R. (1868)

The House of Lords, in this case, stated that "A conspiracy consists not merely in the intention of two or more but in the agreement of two or more to do an unlawful act by unlawful means. So long as such a design rests in intention only it is not indictable…." Thus, two or more persons must agree to carry it into effect and the very plot is an act in itself punishable for a criminal object or the use of criminal means.

Tapandas Vs State Of Bombay (1955) Sc

In this case, the appellant along with three others was charged with the offence under Section 120B read with Sections 471 and 420 I.P.C. for conspiracy to use forged documents. The Trial Court acquitted all the accused, but the High Court, in appeal reversed the acquittal of the appellant and convicted him for the substantive offence as well as for criminal conspiracy. In appeal, the Supreme Court held that it is a matter of common sense that one person alone can never be held guilty of criminal conspiracy for the simple reason that he cannot conspire. It was held that the appellant could not be convicted under Section 120B when his alleged co-conspirators were acquitted of that offence. When all the alleged co-conspirators have been acquitted, the accused alone cannot be held guilty for conspiracy unless it can be proved that he conspired to commit an offence not only with the co-accused but with some third person(s) who has not been tried, because he is minor or is absconding.

Leo Roy Frey Vs Suppdt. Distt. Jail (1958) Sc

The Hon'ble Supreme Court, in this case, held that the conspiracy to commit a crime is a different offence from the crime that is the object of the conspiracy. A conspiracy precedes the commission of the crime and is complete before the crime is attempted or completed.

B.Narsimha Rao Vs Govt. Of A.P

In this case, the appellant was convicted of an offence of criminal conspiracy along with seven others. However, he alone was charged with offences under Ss. 120-B, 409 and 471, IPC under section 5(1)(c) and 5(l)(d) read with section 5(2) of the prevention of corruption Act, 1947. Simultaneously, all the other co-conspirators were acquitted by the Trial Court and the High Court. In the end, the Supreme Court acquitted the accused on the facts that there had to be another person to communicate with and carry out the agreement and that a single person can never be accounted for conspiracy.

The State Of Andhra Pradesh Vs Subbaiah, 1961

The Supreme Court in the above case contended that "where the matter has gone beyond the stage of mere conspiracy and offences are alleged to have been committed in pursuance thereof the accused can be charged with the specific offences alleged to have flown out of the conspiracy along with the charge of conspiracy. The court observed, "Conspiracy to commit an offence is itself an offence and a person can be separately charged with respect to such a conspiracy". 

State (Delhi Admn) Vs V.C. Shukla

In the above case the court observed that:
To prove a criminal conspiracy which is punishable under S. 120-B of IPC, there must be direct or circumstantial evidence to show that there was an agreement between two or more persons to commit an offence. This envisages that there must be a meeting of minds resulting in an ultimate decision taken by the conspirators regarding the commission of an offence. It is true that in most cases it will be difficult to get direct evidence of an agreement to conspire but a conspiracy can be inferred even from circumstances giving rise to a conclusive or irresistible inference of an agreement between two or more persons to commit an offence.

Conclusion
The offence of criminal conspiracy is an exception to the general rules that in order to constitute a crime, both mens rea and actus rea must be involved, here merely guilty mind is sufficient to render a person guilty if the agreement was to commit an illegal act. However, an act, or actus reus becomes essential again if the object of the agreement was to do a lawful act by unlawful means. The criminal conspiracy can be inferred from the surrounding circumstances and the conduct of the suspected or the accused person. A person found to be guilty of criminal conspiracy, is punished under Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

This Section of the Code, is slowly losing its essence and there is a need to ensure that due diligence is maintained in cases of criminal conspiracy to propagate true manifestation of the law and justice. The well-established principle of criminal law, fouler the crime, higher the proof required' must be kept in mind, and the sanctity of law upheld.

Nowadays, it is seen that the provision of criminal conspiracy is very loosely invoked which is not in line with the principles laid down by the Supreme Court. Hence, it is very much required that the superior courts keep a check on the misuse of the provision while upholding the rule of law.

Written By:
  1. Gurmeet Singh, Advocate, For M/S Gurmeet Singh & Associates, Advocates and Legal Consultants,
    Website: www.gurmeetsinghandassociates.com /.in, Email: [email protected], Ph No:+91 8750002000
  2. Miss Srestha Nandy,
  3. Miss Prabha Dabral.

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