According to the basic English law definition, criminal conspiracy is when multiple persons have an agreement for an unlawful act by unlawful means or even using unlawful means to carry out an otherwise lawful object.
Originally, conspiracy was punishable under the Indian Penal Code in two forms –
- Conspiracy by way of abetment
- Conspiracy by actual involvement in a specific offence e.g. dacoity
Until the Criminal Law Amendment of 1913, conspiracy was not in itself an offence except as defined under section 121A. Therefore, currently, it can be of the following types-
- As an offence in itself- through sections 120A and 120B
- As a form of abetment- through section 107
- To wage, attempt or abet waging of war against the Government of India- through section 121A
- Involvement in certain specific offences e.g. assembly for purposes of committing dacoity.
A conspiracy is basically an agreement between multiple individuals to either
- Do an illegal act; or
- Do an otherwise legal act by an illegal means
There is a need for a joint intention but no specific need for a physical act. Before the amendment of 1913, an act was needed to punish someone for a conspiracy, but now is not the case.
The Supreme Court, in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, has interpreted the provisions to mean that there is no need for a specific act, even those who planned the assassination were held liable for criminal conspiracy.
The following are the essential ingredients to hold a person liable for criminal conspiracy-
- There should be an agreement between two or more persons
- The agreement should be
to do or cause to be done one of the following-
- An illegal act; or
- A legal act through an illegal means
A mere agreement, which is not an agreement to commit an offence will not in itself amount to punishment for a conspiracy unless there is a specific act done.
According to the Indian Penal Code, the term, ‘illegal’ includes everything that is an offence, or which furnishes a ground for civil action or which is prohibited by law.Hence, two or more persons would be held guilty under this provision if they agree to do an act prohibited by law or which is illegal or gives a ground for a civil action..
Apart from acts which are prohibited by law, acts that may be grounds for civil actions could be-
- Breaches of contract; or
- Wrongs independent of contract
The punishment for criminal conspiracy has been provided by s.120B of the Indian Penal Code. It categorizes conspiracy into the following two types, for the purposes of punishment –
- Conspiracy to commit an act of a serious nature in the manner of an offence punishable by death, imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for a period of two years or upwards and where no specific provision has been made for the punishment for the same, the person is to be punished in the manner as if he would have been punished for the abetment of the concerned offence.
- Conspiracy to commit an act which has not been dealt exclusively with in the foregoing provision. For the same, it provides a uniform punishment for a term upto six months, or fine, or both. A case punishable by only a fine is for an offence wherein the conspiracy has been unsuccessful.
A mere illegal act, which does not amount to an offence lying outside the scope of Chapter V of the Indian Penal Code has been made punishable by a term of imprisonment to the extent of six months, or fine, or both.
Due to the fact that a criminal conspiracy is something which is usually done in privacy and secrecy, it is unlikely that a direct proof of the same would be available. It would not usually be possible to give directly incriminating evidence against persons and would neither be possible to always prove the required mensrea. Hence the law recognizes this difficulty and provides that it is not necessary to prove an express agreement, rather any physical manifestation of the act would be enough to convict the concerned individuals.
By Shalya Agarwal
Symbiosis Law College, Noida