Criminal Conspiracy under IPC

Criminal Conspiracy under Indian Penal Code, 1860

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Criminal Conspiracy – Definition – Section 120A –

When two or more persons agree to do, or cause to be done –

(1) an illegal act, or

(2) 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 to  a criminal conspiracy unless some act besides the agreement is done by one or more parties to such agreement in pursuance of thereof.

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Section 120B of Indian Penal Code. “Punishment for Criminal Conspiracy”

(1) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with death, [imprisonment for life] or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or upwards, shall, where no express provision is made in this Code for the punishment of such a conspiracy, be punished in the same manner as if he had abetted such offence.

(2) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy other than a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable as aforesaid shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months, or with fine or with both.

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Though Conspiracy was initially was considered as only a civil wrong, but later on it was brought under the ambit of Indian Criminal Law. Conspiracy was not an offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) until the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1913 was passed which added the sections 120-A and 120-B to the IPC.

However, the following definition has been suggested by the Law Commission of India for Criminal Conspiracy

When two or more persons agree to commit an offense punishable with death, imprisonment for life, or imprisonment of either description for a term of two years or upwards, or to cause such an offense to be committed, the agreement in designated a criminal conspiracy.

Explanation of this section- 120A –

The main thing on which criminality lies under this section is the “agreement”, which requires at least two persons. Here ‘Agreement’ is not merely the stage of intention which is not culpable, but is much more than that.

It is a plan or a design to bring in action. The plot is an act in itself. It is not necessary that all the members of the conspiracy must be aware of each detail of the conspiracy, but it is essential and required that there has to be a common design among them and every conspirator  from his end of the design must carry out into effect or execute the plan.

However, every conspirator will be aware of the major and important details of the conspiracy if not the minutest details.

For example- If there is a conspiracy of committing a murder amonsgt some persons, each of the conspirator will have to be aware of the major detail of the conspiracy in order to execute the plan properly. Major details here would be, who is to be murdered and howwhen he is to be murdered and by whom, even though the other minute details might not be known to each of them.

The offence of criminal conspiracy lies in the very agreement between two or more persons, to commit a criminal offence, however, the said offence may not actually be committed. AIR 1956 SC 469 : 1956 CrLJ 831 (SC); [(2002) 5 SCC 234]; [(2002) 7 SCC 334]

The gist of the offence of criminal conspiracy is to break the law. It is sufficient if the agreement to commit the illegal act, is established. To establish the charge of criminal conspiracy, knowledge about the involvement or indulgence in the illegal act, is necessary. AIR 1996 SC 1744; AIR 1961 SC 1762.

A conspiracy is always hatched in secrecy, and therefore it is nearly impossible to secure direct evidence on it. The offence can only be proved largely from the inferences drawn from acts or illegal omissions, committed by the conspirators in pursuance of a common design. AIR 1980 SC 439; AIR 1988 SC 1883; 2000 CrLJ 4584 (SC).

Direct evidence in proof of a conspiracy is seldom available. It can be proved either by direct or circumstantial evidence. It is not always possible to give affirmative evidence about the date of the formation of criminal conspiracy, about the person who took part in the formation of the conspiracy, about the object, and about the manner in which the object of conspiracy is to be carried out, all this is necessarily a matter of inference. AIR 2002 SC 1661.

Therefore, the circumstances proved before, during and after the occurrence, becomes relevant in determining complicity of the accused. (2003) 8 SCC 461.

While appreciating the evidence of the criminal conspiracy, it is however incumbent upon the court to keep in mind the well known rules governing circumstantial evidence, namely, each and every incriminating circumstance must be clearly established by reliable evidence and the circumstances proved from the chain of events, the only irresistible conclusion about the guilt of the accused can safely be drawn, and no other hypothesis against the guilt is possible. (2000) CrLJ 1125 (Del)

A mere suspicion, devoid of any direct or circumstantial evidence, establishing prior meeting of minds, cannot be a ground for conviction for the offence of criminal conspiracy. (1995) 1 SCC 142.

It is however essential that the offence of conspiracy requires some kind of physical manifestation of agreement. The express however need not be proved. Nor actual meeting of two persons is necessary. Nor is it necessary to prove the actual words of communication. The evidence as to transmission of thoughts or sharing the unlawful design may be sufficient. The relative acts or conduct of the parties must be conscientious and clear, to mark their concurrence as to what should be done. However, the concurrence cannot be inferred by a group of irrelevant facts, artfully arranged, so as to give an appearance of coherence. The innocuous, innocent and inadvertent events and incidents should not enter the judicial verdict. AIR 1988 SC 1883; 2001 CrLJ 978 (SC).

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