Law and Punishment Regarding The Offence of Criminal Conspiracy (Indian Penal Code, 1860)
Provided that no agreement except an agreement to commit an offence shall amount to a criminal conspiracy unless some act besides the agreement is done by one or more parties to such agreement in pursuance thereof.
It is immaterial whether the illegal act is the ultimate object of such agreement, or is merely incidental to that object. (S. 120-A).
The ingredients of the offence of criminal conspiracy are; (1) that there must be an agreement between the persons who are alleged to conspire; (2) that the agreement should be (a) for doing an illegal act, or (b) for doing by illegal means an act which may not itself be illegal; and (3) in the case of a conspiracy other than a conspiracy to commit an offence there must be an overt act done by one or more of the parties to the conspiracy to effect the object thereof.
A distinction is drawn between an agreement to commit an offence and an agreement of which either the object or the methods employed are illegal but do not constitute an offence. In the case of the former, the criminal conspiracy is completed by the act of agreement; in the case of the latter, there must be some act done by one or more of the parties to the agreement to effect the object thereof, i.e., there must be an overt act.
Criminal conspiracy as defined in Section 120-A, I.P.C., is an agreement by two or more persons to do or cause to be done an illegal act by illegal means. The agreement is the gist of the offence. In order to constitute a single general conspiracy there must be a common design and a common intention of all to work in furtherance of the common design.
Each conspirator plays his separate parts in one integrated and united effort to achieve the common purpose. Each one is aware that he has a part to play in a general conspiracy though he may not know all its secrets, or the means by which the common purpose is to be accomplished.
The evil scheme may be promoted by a few, some may drop out and some may join at a later stage, but the conspiracy continues until it is broken up. The conspiracy may develop in successive stages.
There may be a general plan to accomplish the common design by such means as may from time to time be found expedient. New techniques may be invented and new means may be devised for advancement of the common plan.
A general conspiracy must be distinguished from a number of separate conspiracies having a similar general purpose. Where different groups of persons co-operate towards their separate ends without any privities with each other, each combination constitutes a separate conspiracy.
The common intention of the conspirators then is to work for the furtherance of the common design of his group only. (Mohd. Hussain Umar v. K.S. Dalipsinghji, (A.I.R. 1970 S.C. 45).
In Topandas v. State of Bombay, AIR 1956 S.C. 33, it was held that “two or more persons must be parties to such an agreement and one person alone can never be held guilty of criminal conspiracy for the simple reason that one cannot conspire with oneself.”
It is axiomatic that there cannot be a conspiracy of one. [Haradhan Chakrabarty v. Union of India and another (1990)2 S.C.C. 143].
Punishment of Criminal Conspiracy:
As regards punishment Section 120-B provides that one who is a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or upwards, shall, where there is no provision for the punishment of such a conspiracy, be punished as an abettor of such offence; in other cases he shall be liable to punishment that may extend to six months, or with fine or with both.
Sections 120-A and 120-B have brought the Law of Conspiracy in India in line with the English Law by making the overt act unessential when the conspiracy is to commit any punishable offence.
The most important ingredient of the offence of conspiracy is the agreement between two or more persons to do an illegal act.
The illegal act may or may not be done in pursuance of agreement, but the very agreement is an offence and is punishable. Reference to Ss. 120-A and 120- B, IPC would make these aspects clear beyond doubt.
Entering into an agreement by two or more persons to do an illegal act or legal act by illegal means is the very quintessence of the offence of conspiracy. [Kehar Singh and others v. The State (Delhi Admn.), 1989 Cri. L.J. 1].