What is Criminal Conspiracy? | Is Criminal Conspiracy a continuing offence? | Till period what does a conspirational agreement continue to be in operation and therefore in existence? | Scope of Section 120-A of IPC, 1860.


To answer the above questions, the Supreme Court, in State Of Tamil Nadu Through Superintendent of Police, CBI/SIT v. Nalini1, referred to various judgements…

Major E.G. Barsay v. The State of Bombay2

The gist of the offence of criminal conspiracy under Section 120A IPC is an agreement to break the law. The parties to such an agreement will be guilty of criminal conspiracy, though the illegal act agreed to be done has not been done. So too, it is not an ingredient of the offence that all the parties should agree to do a single illegal act. It may comprise the commission of a number of acts. Under Section 43 of the Indian Penal Code, an act would be illegal if it is an offence or if it is prohibited by law. Under the first charge the accused are charged with having conspired to do three categories if illegal acts, and the mere fact that all of them could not be convicted separately in respect of each of the offences has no relevancy in considering the question whether the offence of conspiracy has been committed. They are all guilty of the offence of conspiracy to do illegal acts, though for individual offences all of them may not be liable.

In Sardar Sardul Singh Caveeshar v. State of Maharashtra3 reference of which was made while considering the impact of Section 10 of the Evidence Act, the Court said that the essence of conspiracy was that there should be an agreement between persons to do one or other of the other of the acts described in Section 120A IPC. The said agreement may be proved by direct evidence or may be inferred from acts and conduct of the parties.

In Noor Mohammad Mohd. Yusuf Momin v. State of Maharashtra4 it was held that Section 120-B IPC makes the criminal conspiracy as a substantive offence which offence postulates an agreement between two or more persons to do or cause to be done an act by illegal means. It differs from other offences where mere agreement is made an offence even if no steps are taken to carry out that agreement.

In Yash Pal Mittal v. State of Punjab5 the Court said as under:

The offence of criminal conspiracy under Section 120A is a distinct offence introduced for the first time in 1913 in Chapter V-A of the Penal Code. The very agreement, concert or league is the ingredient of the offence. It is not necessary that all the conspirators must know each and every detail of the conspiracy as long as they are co-participators in the main object of the conspiracy. There may be so many devices and techniques adopted to achieve the common goal of the conspiracy and there may be division of performances in the chain of actions with one object to achieve the real end of which every collaborator must be aware and in which each one of them must be interested. There must be unity of object or purpose but there may be plurality of means sometimes even unknown to one another, amongst the conspirators. In achieving the goal several offences may be committed by some of the conspirators even unknown to the others. The only relevant factor is that all means adopted and illegal acts done must be and purported to be in furtherance of the object of the conspiracy even though there may be sometimes mis-fire or overshooting by some of the conspirators. Even if some steps are resorted to by one or two of the conspirators without the knowledge of the others it will not affect the culpability of those others when they are associated with the object of the conspiracy.

In Shivnarayan Laxminarayan Joshi and others v. State of Maharashtra6

It was manifest “that a conspiracy is always hatched in secrecy and it is impossible to adduce direct evidence of the same. The offence can be only proved largely from the inference drawn from acts or illegal omission committed by the conspirators in pursuance of a common design.

Mohammad Usman Mohammad Hussain Maniyar and others v. State of Maharashtra7 –

It is true that there is no evidence of any express agreement between the appellants to do or cause to be done the illegal act. For an offence under Section 120-B, the prosecution need not necessarily prove that the perpetrators expressly agreed to do or cause to be done the illegal act; the agreement may be proved by necessary implication.

State of Himachal Pradesh v. Kishan Lal Pardhan and others8

Everyone of the conspirators need not have taken active part in the commission of each and every one of the conspiratorial acts for the offence of conspiracy to be made out. It added that :-

The offence of criminal conspiracy consists in a meeting of minds of two or more persons for agreeing to do or causing to be done an illegal act or an act by illegal means, and the performance of an act in terms thereof. If pursuant to the criminal conspiracy the conspirators commit several offences, then all of them will be liable for the offences even if some of them had not actively participated in the commission of the offences.

In Kehar Singh and others v. State (Delhi Administration)9 the Court said that the most important ingredient of the offence of conspiracy is 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. It further added as under :-

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 inquire whether the two persons are independently pursuing the same end or they have come together in the pursuit of the unlawful object. The former does not render them conspirators, but the latter does. 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 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 never have been an express verbal agreement, it being sufficient that there was “a tacit understanding between conspirators as to what should be done”.

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