Conspire means to jointly make secret plans for committing an unlawful or harmful act. When two or more persons agree, either expressly or impliedly, to do an illegal act or any legal act with illegal means, this comes under the act of criminal conspiracy. In other words, when two or more persons agree to commit an offence that is prohibited by law, they will be liable for criminal conspiracy. It is an offence where not only one person rather two or more than two persons are required because a single person can not conspire.
Criminal conspiracy is contained under Chapter VA, section 120A and section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Section 120A talks about the definition of criminal conspiracy, and section 120B talks about the punishment for criminal conspiracy. In this IPC law note, let us learn more in easy to understand words.
What Is Criminal Conspiracy
Definition for criminal conspiracy is given under section 120A of the Indian Penal Code. As per section 120A of IPC:
When two or more people consent to do or have done any illegal act or an act that is legal by illegal means, they are said to have committed an offence of a criminal conspiracy.
A criminal conspiracy not only consists of the agreement or meeting of intention or minds between two or more than two persons but an actual commission of an unlawful act by unlawful means. It means that only agreement or intention is not enough to make a person liable for criminal conspiracy unless they have done something unlawful or illegal by unlawful or illegal means.
To establish criminal conspiracy charges under section 120A, there must be an agreement, either expressed or implied. And for that, no proof of direct meeting or communication is needed. Passive cognizance of conspiracy is not enough. There must be active cooperation. In other words, joint evil intent is mandatory.
In Bimbdhar Pradhan vs the State of Orissa (1956), 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.
Earlier, one person alone could be held liable for the offence of criminal conspiracy. However, this rule has been changed in subsequent cases.
In the State of Tamil Nadu vs Nalini (1999), commonly known as the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, it was held that the corporation of accused with the main accused or even his knowledge regarding conspiracy would not make the accused liable for conspiracy as the agreement is the sine qua non (essential) for the offence of conspiracy.
Essential Ingredients of Criminal Conspiracy, Section 120A, IPC
The essentials of this section can be outlined as:
1. There should be an agreement between two or more persons.
2. Such an agreement should be done:
(a) to do an illegal act, or
(b) or to do a legal act by illegal means.
1. 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. 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.
3. Legal Act by Illegal Means
When any act is done even though it is lawful but done by illegal means, it constitutes criminal conspiracy.
The Supreme Court has outlined the essential ingredients of criminal conspiracy in R Venkatkrishnan vs CBI as:
1. An agreement between two or more persons.
2. The agreement must be related to doing or causing to be done either:
(a) an illegal act
(b) an act that is not illegal in itself but is done by illegal means.
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.
Position of Husband and Wife to Criminal Conspiracy
In English law, if only the husband and his wife conspire to do an illegal act or legal act by illegal means, they cannot be held liable for criminal conspiracy because, legally, they are deemed to be one person or one entity. However, in India, this is not the situation.
Punishment for 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.