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Coverage of this Article

KEY TAKEAWAYS

-Criminal Conspiracy and its punishment under Section 120B, IPC.

CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY

-Section 120A of IPC defines criminal conspiracy.

BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LAW OF CONSPIRACY IN INDIA

-Originally, there were just two provisions in the Indian Penal Code that rendered Criminal Conspiracy punishable.

INGREDIENTS OF SECTION 120A

-They should come to an understanding with one another.

NATURE AND SCOPE OF SECTION 120B

-It is the section that punishes the offence of criminal conspiracy, as specified in section 120A IPC.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SECTION 120B AND SECTION 107, IPC

-One of the key differences between S. 107 (which provides for the offence of abetment by conspiracy), and Sections 120A and 120B, which make the agreement itself an offence, is that the former is punishable only if some act or illegal omission in furtherance of that conspiracy has been committed in addition to the agreement itself.

CONCLUSION

-Criminal Conspiracy is classified as an inchoate crime because it does not necessitate the commission of an illegal act.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Criminal Conspiracy and its punishment under Section 120B, IPC.
  • Essentials of Criminal Conspiracy
  • History of criminal conspiracy in India
  • Nature of S. 120B
  • Difference between Criminal Conspiracy and Abetment

CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY

Section 120A of IPC defines criminal conspiracy.

BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LAW OF CONSPIRACY IN INDIA

  • Originally, there were just two provisions in the Indian Penal Code that rendered Criminal Conspiracy punishable. The first was Section 107 of the Indian Penal Code, that made conspiracy by way of abetment illegal. The other was specific provisions addressing offences that involved a conspiracy to commit them, such as the definition of a thug (s. 310), belonging to a gang of dacoits (s. 400), or being a thief (ss. 400, 401).
  • With the judgement of the House of Lords in the well-known case of Mulcahy v R, (1868) LR 3 HL 306, the English common law on conspiracy was broadened in 1868. The Mulcahy dicta established the notion in common law that a simple agreement between two or more people to do an unlawful act or a legitimate act by use of unlawful means was enough to attract conspiracy liability, even if no overt act had been committed. This evolution of the law in England was echoed in the IPC, which was amended in 1870 to broaden the law of conspiracy by inserting S.121A, which made it unlawful to conduct any of the offences punishable under S. 121. (Waging war or attempting to wage war against the Government of India). Thus, conspiracy per se was not constituted a crime under the IPC, with the exception of offences explicitly enumerated under Section 121A.
  • The situation altered in 1913 with the inclusion of Chapter V-A (S 120A and S 120B) to the IPC, which aimed to harmonize India's criminal conspiracy law with that of England and to give the law of conspiracy greater effect in India.
  • With the addition of Sections 120A and 120B to the IPC, the law of conspiracy was expanded to include:

(i) Conspiracy as a substantive offence (Chapter V-A: Sections 120A and 120B);

(ii) Conspiracy as a form of abetment (Chapter V: Section 107 Secondly);

(iii) Conspiracy to wage, attempt, or abet war against the Government of India (Chapter VI: Section 121A);

(iv) Involvement in specific offences (Chapter XVI: S. 310 and 311; Chapter XVII: Sections 400, 401 and 402).

INGREDIENTS OF SECTION 120A

  • The following are the primary components of s 120A, IPC:

(1) There should be at least two people.

(2) They should come to an understanding with one another.

(3) The agreement must include a promise to perform or cause something to be done:

(a) an illegal act; or

(b) a legitimate act carried out in an illegal manner.

  • The section's proviso broadens the extent of obligation as follows:

(1) In the instance of a conspiracy to commit an offence, a mere agreement is enough to establish culpability without the need for overt conduct in support of the conspiracy.

(2) However, in the case of a conspiracy to do a legal act using illicit methods, one or more parties to the agreement should have undertaken an overt act in addition to the agreement itself.

  • The Hon'ble Supreme Court in Kehar Singh and others v. State (Delhi Administration), 1989 AIR 653, held that the most crucial part of the offence of conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit an illegal act. The illegal act may or may not be carried out in accordance with the agreement, but the agreement itself is illegal and punished.
  • In Mohd Khalid v State of West Bengal, (2002) 7 SCC 334 and Devender Pal Singh v State (NCT of Delhi), AIR 2002 SC 166, the Supreme Court, after referring to the law relating to conspiracy in the USA and the UK, summarized the broad essentials of criminal conspiracy in India thus:

(a) an object to be accomplished;

(b) a plan or scheme embodying means to accomplish that object;

(c) an agreement or understanding between two or more of the accused persons whereby they become committed to co-operate for the accomplishment of the object by the means embodied in the agreement, or by any effectual means, and;

(d) an overt act, in pursuance of the agreement, in case of a non-offence act.

Section 120B defines the punishment for Criminal Conspiracy.

NATURE AND SCOPE OF SECTION 120B

  • It is the section that punishes the offence of criminal conspiracy, as specified in section 120A IPC.
  • It is not essential for the offender to have been present from the commencement of the conspiracy or even throughout the full term of the conspiracy to be held accountable for conspiracy.
  • When the alleged conspiracy is for the purpose of committing a serious crime of the type contemplated by Section 120B read with the proviso to Section 120A, IPC, then mere proof of the agreement between the accused for the commission of such an offence is sufficient to obtain a conviction under Section 120B.
  • However, clear evidence that the accused was not only a part of the conspiracy but also had knowledge of and consented to the conspiracy, as held in Nand Kumar Singh v State of Bihar, AIR 1992 SC 1939, is required to be dragged in under s 120B.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SECTION 120B AND SECTION 107, IPC

One of the key differences between S. 107 (which provides for the offence of abetment by conspiracy), and Sections 120A and 120B, which make the agreement itself an offence, is that the former is punishable only if some act or illegal omission in furtherance of that conspiracy has been committed in addition to the agreement itself.

The essence of criminal conspiracy is a simple agreement to commit the crime, whereas abetment of conspiracy necessitates the conduct of an illegal act or omission in furtherance of the plot. Thus, the purpose of introducing Sections 120A and 120B as an amendment appears to have been to address a critical vacuum in the law and to enlarge the law of conspiracy beyond the provisions of S. 107 concerning abetment by conspiracy. While S. 120A provides an expanded definition of criminal conspiracy to include conduct that does not constitute abetment by conspiracy as defined by S. 107, S. 120B provides a punishment for criminal conspiracy where the IPC does not expressly provide for such a punishment.

There is another aspect to the clause in S. 120B that should be noted. This is related to the keywording that, in a sense, defines the scope of S.120B's applicability, namely, that only those offences are punished for which "no express provision is established in this Code for the punishment of such a conspiracy." This means that if the crime conspired to be committed is already a crime under the IPC, Section 120B will not apply. Similarly, because the Code has provided particular provisions for the punishment of abetment through Sections 109, 114, 115, and 116, IPC, it is not necessary to apply the provisions of Sections 120A and 120B when a conspiracy amounts to abetment under Section 107.

CONCLUSION

Criminal Conspiracy is classified as an inchoate crime because it does not necessitate the commission of an illegal act. A criminal conspiracy is a criminal partnership in which each conspiracy has a joint or mutual agency for the execution of a shared plan. Nowadays, it is common to see the provision of the criminal conspiracy being used very loosely, which is contrary to the Supreme Court's views. As a result, superior courts must keep a close eye on the misuse of the provision while protecting the rule of law.


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