3 Jun 2010

Criminal Conspiracy: The law revisited

A division bench of the Delhi High Court in a recent decision has taken note of and explained the law of criminal conspiracy in India.Dealing with the liability of various accused in respect of an incident which took place at a Ford Showroom in Delhi in the year 2000 and looting of cash thereon, the High Court examined the law in respect of the accusation that the accused had involved in a criminal conspiracy to this end.

The High Court explained the law in the following terms;
39. As conspiracy is the primary charge against the accused, we first advert to the law of conspiracy – its definition, essential features and proof.
40. Section 120-A defines 'criminal conspiracy' as under:-
“Definition of criminal conspiracy - When two or more person agree to do, or cause to be done, (1) An illegal act, or (2) An act which is not illegal by illegal means, such an agreement is designated a criminal conspiracy: 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
Explanation: - It is immaterial whether the illegal act is the ultimate object of such agreement, or is merely incidental to that object.”
41. Proof of a criminal conspiracy by direct evidence is not easy to get and probably for this reason Section 10 of the Indian Evidence Act was enacted. It reads as under:-
"10. Things said or done by conspirator in reference to common design:-Where there is reasonable ground to believe that two or more persons have conspired together to commit an offence or an actionable wrong, anything said, done or written by any one of such persons in reference to their common intention, after the time when such intention was first entertained by any one of them, is a relevant fact as against each of the persons believed to so conspiring, as well for the purpose of proving the existence of the conspiracy as for the purpose of showing that any such person was a party to it."
 42. Thus, the substantive section of the IPC i.e. Section 120-A adumbrated thereon Section 10 of the Indian Evidence Act give us the legislative provisions applicable to conspiracy and its proof.
43. A conspiracy is a march under a banner. The very agreement, concert or league is the ingredient, of the offence like most crimes, conspiracy requires an act (actus reuse) and an accompanying mental state (mens rea). From the definition of conspiracy in Section 120-A, it is evident that the agreement constitutes the act and the intention to achieve unlawful object constitutes the mental state. All conspirators are liable for the crimes committed in furtherance of the conspiracy besides being liable for committing an offence of conspiracy itself. Pertaining to conspiracy, law punishes conduct that threats to produce the harm as well as the conduct that actually produces the harm. In this, lies the difference between the offence of conspiracy and general penal offences. In case of general offences, attempt to commit a crime merges when the crime is completed but in case of conspiracy, punishment is for both, the conspiracy and the completed crime. This distinctiveness of the offence of conspiracy makes all conspirators as agents of each other. Conspiracy, thereforee, criminalizes the agreement to commit a crime. Inherently, conspiracy is a clandestine activity. Its covenants are not formed openly. It has to be inferred from circumstantial evidence of co-operation.
44. If conspiracies are hatched in the darkness of secrecy and direct evidence is seldom forthcoming and if the offence is to be proved in relation to the acts, deeds or things done by the co-conspirators, the question would arise as to what is the nature of these acts, deeds or things. Is merely moving around together or seen in each other's company sufficient? If not, what more should be there from which it could be inferred that the conspirators were acting to achieve the desired offence in furtherance of a crime.
45. In the decision reported as State of Maharashtra & Ors. v. Som Nath Thapa & Ors. (1996) 4 SCC 659 illuminating on this grey area, the Supreme Court observed that for a person to conspire with another, he must have knowledge of what the co-conspirators were wanting to achieve and thereafter having the intent to further the illegal act takes recourse to a course of conduct to achieve the illegal end or facilitate its accomplishment. Except for extreme cases, intent could be inferred from knowledge for example whether a person was found in possession of an offending article, no legitimate use of which could be done by the offender. To illustrate, a person is found in possession of 100 Kg. of RDX, is proved to be visiting or visited by "A" against whom there is a charge of conspiring to blow up a public place. Here, the recovery of the offending article would be enough to infer a charge of conspiracy. However, such instances apart, it was held that law would require something more. This something more would be a step from knowledge to intent. This was to be evidenced from informed and interested cooperation, simulation and instigation. The following passage from People v. Lauria 251, California APP 2 (d) 471 was cited.
"All articles of commerce may be put to illegal ends,.... but all do not have inherently the same susceptibility to harmful and illegal use....This different is important for two purposes. One is for making certain that the seller knows the buyer's intended illegal use. The other is to show that by the same he intends to further promote and cooperate in it. This intent, when given effect by overt act, is the gist of conspiracy. While it is not identical with mere knowledge that another proposes unlawful action, it is not unrelated to such knowledge........ The step from knowledge to intent and agreement may be taken. There is more than suspicion, more than knowledge, acquiescence, carelessness, indifferent, lack of concern. There is informed and interested cooperation, simulation, instigation." 
46. To elucidate further, it is most apposite to quote following observations of Supreme Court in the decision reported as Kehar Singh v. State (Delhi Administration) AIR 1988 SC 1883:- 
“Generally, a conspiracy is hatched in secrecy and it may be difficult to adduce direct evidence of the same. The prosecution will often rely on evidence of acts of various parties to infer that they were done in reference to their common intention. The prosecution will also more often rely upon circumstantial evidence. The conspiracy can be undoubtedly proved by such evidence direct or circumstantial. But the Court must enquire whether the two persons are independently pursuing the same and or they have come together to the pursuit of the unlawful object. The former does not render them conspirators, but the latter is. It is, however, essential that the offence of conspiracy requires some kind of physical manifestation of agreement. The express agreement, however, need not be proved. Nor actual meeting of two persons is necessary. Nor it is necessary to prove the actual words of communication. The evidence as to transmission of thoughts sharing the unlawful design may be sufficient. Gerald Orchard of University of Canterbury, New Zealand 1974 C L R 297 explains the limited nature of this proposition:
Although it is not in doubt that the offence requires some physical manifestation of agreement, it is important to note the limited nature of this proposition. The law does not require that the act of agreement take any particular form and the fact of agreement may be communicated by words or conduct. Thus, it has been said that it is unnecessary to prove that the parties "actually came together' and agreed in terms" to pursue the unlawful object; there need ever have been an express verbal agreement, it being sufficient that there was "a tacit understanding between conspirators as to what should be done. I share this opinion, but hasten to add that the relative acts or conduct of the parties must be conscientious and clear to mark their concurrence as to what should be done. The concurrence cannot be inferred by a group of irrelevant facts artfully arranged so as to give an appearance of coherence. The innocuous, innocent or inadvertent events and incidents should not enter the judicial verdict. We must thus be strictly on our guard.
47. Since more often than not, conspiracy would be proved on circumstantial evidence, four fundamental requirements as laid down as far back as in 1881 in the judgment reported 60 years later at the suggestion of Rt. Hon'ble Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru i.e. 1941 All ALJR 416, Queen Empress v. Hoshhak may be re-emphasized:-
I. That the circumstances from which the conclusion is drawn be fully established;
II. That all the facts should be consistent with the hypothesis of guilt;
III. That the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency;
IV. That the circumstances should, by a moral certainty, actually exclude every hypothesis but the one proposed to be proved; 
48. The discussion pertaining to standard of proof required for proving the offence of conspiracy can be summarized by the following observations of Supreme Court in the decision reported as State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Sandhu AIR 2005 SC 3820:-
“A few bits here and a few bits there on which the prosecution relies cannot be held to be adequate for connecting the accused in the offence of criminal conspiracy.


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Sunil Pathak said...

I am an engineer by profession.

A conspiracy done in civil matter is also covered in Criminal conspiracy or not.

Please reply at sunil.pathaksunil.pathak@gmail.com or my mobile number 07415399572


with regards

Sunil Pathak