The Indian Penal Code (IPC) contains certain provisions in which the liability of a person who commits a crime with some other persons is determined. When a person commits a crime with some other person(s), joint liability is generated because either the intention or the object is common to all the persons who have committed a crime together.
In this law note, I will explain the common object given under section 149 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Let us begin systematically.
Section 149 IPC: Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object
If an offence is committed by any member of an unlawful assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly, or such as the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed in prosecution of that object, every person who, at the time of the committing of that offence, is a member of the same assembly, is guilty of that offence.
Section 149 of IPC says that every member of the unlawful assembly will be held guilty for the offence committed in the prosecution of a common object. It is not necessary for all members to individually participate in the offence. Even if a single member commits an offence, all will be held liable for being a member of an unlawful assembly.
The word ‘object’ here means the ‘purpose’. To make an object common, it must be shared by all members of the group. It can be built at any stage by either all or some members of an unlawful assembly. The effect of this section of the IPC can vary on different members of the same assembly.
The section is divided into two parts:
1. Offences that are committed by members of an unlawful assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly.
2. Offences that the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed in prosecution of the common object.
1. An offence that is committed by members of an unlawful assembly.
2. The offence committed must be in the prosecution of the common object.
3. The members must know that the offence is likely to be committed.
4. The offence must be committed by five or more persons.
1. An offence committed by members of an unlawful assembly:
To make a person liable for the common object, it must be proved that he was influenced by the common object. And, that object must be one given under section 141 of the IPC. An accused cannot be convicted unless the common object of the unlawful assembly is proved. Simple presence in an unlawful assembly does not make a person liable unless he has been influenced by the common object.
Case Law: State of Karnataka vs Chikkahottappa (2008)
2. In the prosecution of the common object:
The second essential ingredient of the common object is that the offence committed must be in furtherance of the common object. The act must be such that it is done to achieve the common object associated with the members of the unlawful assembly.
3. Members knew to be likely:
Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code is divided into two parts. The second part talks about a situation where the fellows of the assembly learned that the offence is likely to be committed in prosecution of the common object. It must be proved that the members had the knowledge of the commission of the offence. Moreover, it must be proved that the members had the knowledge of the commission of the offence in order to achieve the common object of that assembly.
Case Law: K.C. Mathew and Others vs The State of Travancore-Cochin (1956)
4. Five or more persons:
The last essential component of section 149 is that there must be five or more than five persons having a common object. It must be proved that five or more persons were committing an offence. However, it may happen that some persons of the assembly are unidentifiable. And, in such circumstance, even less than five persons may be convicted. In case the presence of five persons is not proved, the conviction of none is possible under this section.
Note: The applicability of section 149 will not be affected where the presence of more than five persons is found in the unlawful assembly and there is non-identification of certain persons from that assembly.
Case Law: Bharwad Mepa vs State of Bombay (1960)
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