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Understanding IPC Section 120B: Criminal Conspiracy and Its Implications

Updated: Feb 4

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) is a comprehensive statute that deals with criminal offenses and punishments in India. One such significant provision is IPC Section 120B, which pertains to criminal conspiracy. In today's interconnected world, the role of criminal conspiracies has grown, and understanding this provision is vital for law graduates and UPSC law optional aspirants.


Criminal Conspiracy under IPC


This blog post aims to provide an in-depth analysis of IPC Section 120B, its essential ingredients, case laws, and quotes from Supreme Court judgments and jurists, making it a valuable resource for law students and legal practitioners alike.

Content:

I.Defining Criminal Conspiracy under IPC: Elements, Comparison II. Understanding the Two-Part Structure of IPC 120B A. III. Punishments and Penalties for Criminal Conspiracy under IPC IV. Section 120B IPC Case Laws: Notable Judgements V. Defenses against Criminal Conspiracy Charges

VI. Quotes on Criminal Conspiracy VII. Legal Provisions Under Different Acts Related to Criminal Conspiracy


I. Defining Criminal Conspiracy under IPC

A. Explanation of IPC 120B

Section 120B of the IPC defines criminal conspiracy as an agreement between two or more persons to commit an illegal act or a legal act by illegal means.


The essence of this offense lies in the agreement and the intention to commit the act. It is important to note that the act itself need not be executed for the offense to be established.


B. Elements of criminal conspiracy

Criminal conspiracy, as defined under IPC Section 120B, is a complex offense with multiple elements that need to be satisfied to establish the crime. The following is an in-depth analysis of these elements:


1. Agreement between two or more persons:

  • The foundation of criminal conspiracy is the existence of an agreement between two or more individuals. The agreement does not need to be formal or explicit; it can be inferred from the actions or conduct of the parties involved.

  • It is essential to prove that the individuals involved had a meeting of minds, intending to cooperate and pursue a common goal.

  • The agreement may involve a single or multiple transactions, but the underlying intention to commit the act must be clear and consistent.

  • It is not necessary for all conspirators to know every detail of the plan or every participant in the conspiracy. However, they must be aware of the overall objective and willingly participate in the agreement.

2, Intention to commit an illegal act or a legal act by illegal means:

  • The second element of criminal conspiracy is the intention to commit an illegal act or a legal act by illegal means. This means that the conspirators must share a common intention to either: a) Commit an act that is inherently unlawful, or b) Achieve a lawful objective through unlawful methods.

  • The conspirators' intention can be inferred from their actions, statements, or other circumstantial evidence. The prosecution must establish that the accused parties shared a common purpose to commit the intended act.

3. Existence of a plan or scheme to execute the intended act:

  • The third element of criminal conspiracy is the existence of a plan or scheme devised by the conspirators to execute the intended act. This involves making preparations, devising strategies, and taking concrete steps towards achieving the common objective.

  • The plan or scheme may be simple or complex, depending on the nature of the intended act and the conspirators' involvement. It may evolve over time and involve multiple stages, but the ultimate goal should remain consistent.

  • Evidence of planning and coordination among conspirators can strengthen the case for criminal conspiracy. This can include communications between conspirators, division of responsibilities, or sharing of resources to execute the intended act.


C. Key differences between criminal conspiracy and other offenses


Criminal conspiracy is distinguished from other offenses by its focus on the agreement and intention rather than the execution of the crime. This allows the law to intervene and prevent the commission of the intended act, thus protecting society from potential harm.


Criminal Conspiracy and Abetment


Criminal conspiracy and abetment are two distinct concepts under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). While both are related to the involvement of multiple individuals in the commission of a crime, they differ in their nature, elements, and underlying principles. Here are the key differences between criminal conspiracy and abetment:


Elements:

  • Criminal Conspiracy: The primary elements of criminal conspiracy include an agreement between two or more persons, the intention to commit an illegal act or a legal act by illegal means, and the existence of a plan or scheme to execute the intended act.

  • Abetment: The essential elements of abetment include instigation, engagement in a conspiracy, or intentional aid provided by the abettor to the principal offender. The abettor must have the intention or knowledge that their actions will facilitate the commission of the crime.


Nature of Participation:

  • Criminal Conspiracy: In a criminal conspiracy, all conspirators are considered equal partners in the crime, with each being responsible for the acts of the others in furtherance of the agreement. This means that all conspirators share equal liability for the offense, regardless of their individual roles in the execution of the crime.

  • Abetment: In abetment, the abettor and the principal offender have distinct roles, with the abettor encouraging or facilitating the commission of the crime, and the principal offender actually executing it. The abettor's liability depends on their level of involvement, and they may be held liable for the same offense as the principal offender, or for a separate offense of abetment.


Continuity of Offense:

  • Criminal Conspiracy: A criminal conspiracy is considered a continuing offense, with the duration extending until the last overt act in furtherance of the agreement is committed. All conspirators remain liable for the acts of their co-conspirators during the conspiracy's existence.

  • Abetment: Abetment, on the other hand, is not a continuing offense. The abettor's liability is determined at the time of the commission of the offense and does not extend beyond that point.


II. Understanding the Two-Part Structure of IPC 120B


Part 1: Conspiracy to commit an illegal act

This part of IPC 120B covers agreements to commit offenses punishable under the IPC or any other law in force. For example, an agreement to commit murder, theft, or forgery would fall under this category.


Two individuals agree to rob a bank, which is an offense under the IPC. This agreement constitutes a criminal conspiracy under Part 1 of IPC 120B.


Part 2: Conspiracy to commit a legal act by illegal means

This part encompasses agreements to commit legal acts through illegal methods. For instance, an agreement to acquire property legally but by using force or fraud would be considered a criminal conspiracy under this part.


Two business partners agree to win a government contract by bribing the concerned authorities. While acquiring the contract is legal, the means adopted (bribery) are illegal. This agreement falls under Part 2 of IPC 120B.


III. Punishments and Penalties for Criminal Conspiracy under IPC


A. Punishment for conspiracy to commit a punishable offense


According to Section 120B(1), when two or more persons conspire to commit a punishable offense (other than a capital offense), they are liable to be punished with the same punishment prescribed for the original offense. This punishment can range from a fine to imprisonment, depending on the severity of the intended offense.


B. Punishment for conspiracy to commit a capital offense


If the conspiracy involves a capital offense, such as murder, Section 120B(2) prescribes the punishment of imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for up to 10 years, along with a fine.


C. Factors that influence sentencing

Judges consider various factors when determining the appropriate sentence for a criminal conspiracy conviction. These factors include the seriousness of the intended offense, the degree of planning involved, the role of each conspirator, and any mitigating circumstances, such as the conspirator's age or mental health.

IV. Section 120B IPC Case Laws: Notable Judgements


A. State of Maharashtra v. Somnath Thapa (1996)

In this case, the Supreme Court of India emphasized the importance of corroborative evidence in proving a criminal conspiracy.


The court stated that while the prosecution need not necessarily prove the exact date or time of the agreement, it must present evidence that strongly suggests the existence of an agreement between the accused parties.


The court further added that the conspiracy's objective must be clearly established through circumstantial evidence.


B. Kehar Singh v. State (Delhi Administration) (1988)

In this landmark judgment, the Supreme Court held that even if the intended offense is not committed, the mere agreement between conspirators constitutes a criminal conspiracy under IPC 120B.


The court opined that the essence of the offense lies in the agreement itself, and the fact that the intended act was not executed does not absolve the conspirators of their liability.


C. Mirza Akbar v. King Emperor (1940)

This pre-independence case, decided by the Privy Council, established the principle that a criminal conspiracy is a continuing offense.


The court held that a conspiracy's duration extends until the last overt act in furtherance of the agreement is committed, making each conspirator liable for the acts of their co-conspirators during the conspiracy's existence.

Essar Teleholdings Ltd. v. Central Bureau of Investigation (2021)

In this case, the Supreme Court of India held that to establish a case of criminal conspiracy, the prosecution must prove the existence of an agreement between the accused parties to commit the alleged offense.


The court observed that the mere presence of circumstances that raise suspicion is not sufficient to prove criminal conspiracy.


State of Kerala v. P. Sugathan & Ors. (2021)

In this judgment, the Kerala High Court held that criminal conspiracy charges could not be sustained solely based on the statements of co-accused individuals.


The court emphasized the need for independent evidence to corroborate the allegations of criminal conspiracy.


P. Chidambaram v. Central Bureau of Investigation (2019)

In this high-profile case, the Delhi High Court denied anticipatory bail to P. Chidambaram, former Union Minister, in connection with allegations of criminal conspiracy under the IPC and corruption charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act.


The court observed that economic offenses and criminal conspiracies to commit such offenses have a profound impact on the country's economic stability.


State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Singh Sidhu & Anr. (2018)

In this case, the Supreme Court acquitted the accused, Navjot Singh Sidhu, of criminal conspiracy charges.


The court held that the prosecution failed to establish the existence of an agreement between the accused parties to commit the alleged offense, and the evidence presented was insufficient to prove the charges of criminal conspiracy.


These case laws highlight the importance of evidence in proving criminal conspiracy charges and establish that the agreement, rather than the execution of the crime, is the focal point of the offense. They also emphasize the concept of criminal conspiracy as a continuing offense, ensuring that conspirators are held accountable for their actions throughout the conspiracy's duration.


V. Defenses against Criminal Conspiracy Charges

A. Withdrawal from the conspiracy

One of the key defenses against criminal conspiracy charges is demonstrating that the accused withdrew from the conspiracy before any overt act was committed in furtherance of the agreement.


However, the burden of proof lies with the accused to establish that they effectively communicated their withdrawal to the other conspirators and took no further part in the conspiracy.


B. Lack of intent or knowledge

Another defense is showing that the accused had no knowledge of the conspiracy or did not possess the requisite intent to commit the intended offense.


For instance, if an individual is unknowingly used as a pawn by the conspirators, they may not be held liable for criminal conspiracy.


C. Insufficient evidence

If the prosecution fails to present sufficient evidence to prove the existence of an agreement or the accused's participation in the conspiracy, the accused may be acquitted of the charges.


VI. Quotes on Criminal Conspiracy


A. Supreme Court of India on Criminal Conspiracy

  1. In the case of Yashpal Mittal v. State of Punjab (1977), the Supreme Court stated, "The meeting of minds is the sine qua non of criminal conspiracy."

  2. In the case of E. G. Barsay v. State of Bombay (1961), the court observed, "A criminal conspiracy is an independent offense in which the conspiracy constitutes the gist of the crime."

B. Quotes from Prominent Jurists on Criminal Conspiracy

  1. Indian jurist and constitutional expert, Nani Palkhivala, observed, "Criminal conspiracy is a partnership in crime, and each member becomes the agent of the other in carrying out the common design."

  2. Renowned British jurist Sir James Fitzjames Stephen commented, "An agreement between two or more persons to do an unlawful act is criminal, not because the act is agreed to be done, but because the agreement is a step towards the commission of the act."


VII. Legal Provisions Under Different Acts Related to Criminal Conspiracy


In addition to IPC Section 120B, there are other legal provisions under various Indian laws that deal with criminal conspiracy:


A. Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988

Section 12 of the Prevention of Corruption Act deals with criminal conspiracy to commit offenses under the Act. This provision covers conspiracy to commit bribery, criminal misconduct, and possession of disproportionate assets.


B. Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967

Section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act criminalizes conspiracy to commit a terrorist act or to promote or facilitate a terrorist act. This provision highlights the importance of curbing criminal conspiracies related to terrorism.


C. Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985

Section 29 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act criminalizes conspiracy to commit offenses under the Act, such as financing illicit traffic, cultivation of narcotic plants, and possession, sale, or transport of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.


D. The Companies Act, 2013

Section 442 of the Companies Act deals with criminal conspiracy to defraud creditors or other persons interested in the company. This provision is aimed at ensuring corporate transparency and fair business practices.


These legal provisions underscore the significance of addressing criminal conspiracy across various domains of law in India. Law graduates and legal professionals must be aware of these provisions to effectively deal with cases involving criminal conspiracies in their respective fields.


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