Admissibility of evidence in a conspiracy case [Based on Theory of implied agency]–Supreme Court in State of Tamil Nadu v. Nalini (Rajiv Gandhi Assassination Case) discussed various Supreme Court judgments which are follow:

Sardar Sardul Singh Caveeshar vs. State of Maharashtra1

When two or more persons agree to do, or cause to be done an illegal act, or an act which is not illegal by illegal means, such an agreement is designated a criminal conspiracy.

The essence of conspiracy is, therefore, that there should be an agreement between persons to do one or other of the acts described in the section. The said agreement may be proved by direct evidence or may be inferred from acts and conduct of the parties. There is no difference between the mode of proof of the offence of conspiracy and that of any other offence : it can be established by direct evidence or by circumstantial evidence. But s.10 of the Evidence Act introduces the doctrine of agency and if the conditions laid down therein are satisfied, the acts done by one are admissible against the coconspirators. The said section reads:

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 be 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.”

This section (Sec 10, Indian Evidence Act), as the opening words indicate, will come into play only when the Court is satisfied that there is reasonable ground to believe that two or more persons have conspired together to commit an offence or an actionable wrong, that is to say, there should be a prima facie evidence that a person was a party to the conspiracy before his acts can be used against his co-conspirators. Once such a reasonable ground exists, anything said, done or written by one of the conspirators in reference to the common intention, after the said intention was entertained, is relevant against the others, not only for the purpose of proving the existence of the conspiracy but also for proving that the other person was a party to it. The evidentiary value of the said acts is limited by two circumstances, namely, that the acts shall be in reference to their common intention and in respect of a period after such intention was entertained by any one of them. The expression “in reference to their common intention” is very comprehensive and it appears to have been designedly used to give it a wider scope than the words “in furtherance of” in the English law; with the result, anything said, done or written by a co-conspirator, after the conspiracy was formed, will be evidence against the other before he entered the field of conspiracy or after he left it. Another important limitation implicit in the language is indicated by the expressed scope of its relevancy. Anything so said, done or written is a relevant fact only “as against each of the persons believed to be 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”. It can only be used for the purpose of proving the existence of the conspiracy or that the other person was a party to it. It cannot be used in favour of the other party or for the purpose of showing that such a person was not a party to the conspiracy. In short, the section can be analysed as follows: (1) There shall be a prima facie evidence affording a reasonable ground for a Court to believe that two or more persons are members of a conspiracy; (2) if the said condition is fulfilled, anything said, done or written by any one of them in reference to their common intention will be evidence against the other; (3) anything said, done or written by him should have been said, done or written by him after the intention was formed by any one of them; (4) it would also be relevant for the said purpose against another who entered the conspiracy whether it was said, done or written before he entered the conspiracy or after he left it; and (5) it can only be used against a coconspirator and not in his favour.

State of Gujarat vs. Mohammed Atik & Ors.2

“It is well-nigh settled that Section 10 of the Evidence Act is founded on the principle of law of agency by rendering the statement or act of one conspirator binding on the other if it was said during subsistence of the common intention as between the conspirators. If so, once the common intention ceased to exist any statement made by a former conspirator thereafter cannot be regarded as one made “in reference to their common intention”. In other words, a post-arrest statement made to a police officer, whether it is a confession or otherwise, touching his involvement in the conspiracy, would not fall within the ambit of Section 10 of the Evidence Act.”

Mirza Akbar vs. King Emperor3  the Privy Council said the following on the scope of Section 10 :

“This being the principle, their Lordships think the words of S.10 must be construed in accordance with it and are not capable of being widely construed so as to include a statement made by one conspirator in the absence of the other with reference to past acts done in the actual course of carrying out the conspiracy, after it has been completed. The common intention is in the past. In their Lordships’ judgment, the words “common intention” signify a common intention existing at the time when the thing was said, done or written by the one of them.”

Things said, done or written while the conspiracy was on foot are relevant as evidence of the common intention, once reasonable ground has been shown to believe in its existence. But it would be a very different matter to hold that any narrative or statement or confession made to a third party after the common intention or conspiracy was no longer operating and had ceased to exist is admissible against the other party. There is then no common intention of the conspirators to which the statement can have reference. That is the construction which has been rightly applied to S.10 in decisions in India, for instance, in 55 Bom 839 and 38 Cal 169. In these cases the distinction was rightly drawn between communications between conspirators while the conspiracy was going on with reference to the carrying out of conspiracy and statements made, after arrest or after the conspiracy has ended, by way of description of events then past.

It is true that provision as contained in Section 10 is a departure from the rule of hearsay evidence. There can be two objections to the admissibility of evidence under Section 10 and they are (1) the conspirator whose evidence is sought to be admitted against co-conspirator is not confronted or crossexamined in Court by the co-conspirator and (2) prosecution merely proves the existence of reasonable ground to believe that two or more persons have conspired to commit an offence and that brings into operation the existence of agency relationship to implicate co-conspirator. But then precisely under Section 10 Evidence Act statement of a conspirator is admissible against co-conspirator on the premise that this relationship exists. Prosecution, no doubt, has to produce independent evidence as to the existence of the conspiracy for Section 10 to operate but it need not prove the same beyond a reasonable doubt.

Criminal conspiracy is a partnership in agreement and there is in each conspiracy a joint or mutual agency for the execution of a common object which is an offence or an actionable wrong. When two or more persons enter into a conspiracy any act done by any one of them pursuant to the agreement is, in contemplation of law, the act of each of them and they are jointly responsible therefor. This means that everything said, written or done by any of the conspirators in execution of or in reference to their common intention is deemed to have been said, done or written by each of them. A conspirator is not, however, responsible for acts done by a conspirator after the termination of the conspiracy as aforesaid. The Court is, however, to guard itself against readily accepting the statement of a conspirator against the co-conspirator. Section 10 is a special provision in order to deal with dangerous criminal combinations. Normal rule of evidence that prevents the statement of one co-accused being used against another under Section 30 of the Evidence Act does not apply in the trial of conspiracy in view of Section 10 of that Act. When it is said that court has to guard itself against readily accepting the statement of a conspirator against co-conspirator what it means is that court looks for some corroboration to be on the safe side. It is not a rule of law but a rule of prudence bordering on law. All said and done ultimately it is the appreciation of evidence on which the court has to embark.

Bhagwandas Keshwani and another vs. State of Rajasthan 4

The Court laid down the following principles—

  1. Under Section 120A IPC offence of criminal conspiracy is committed when two or more persons agree to do or cause to be done an illegal act or legal act by illegal means. When it is legal act by illegal means overt act is necessary. Offence of criminal conspiracy is exception to the general law where intent alone does not constitute crime. It is intention to commit crime and joining hands with persons having the same intention. Not only the intention but there has to be agreement to carry out the object of the intention, which is an offence. The question for consideration in a case is did all the accused had the intention and did they agree that the crime be committed. It would not be enough for the offence of conspiracy when some of the accused merely entertained a wish, howsoever, horrendous it may be, that offence be committed.
  2. Acts subsequent to the achieving of object of conspiracy may tend to prove that a particular accused was party to the conspiracy. Once the object of conspiracy has been achieved, any subsequent act, which may be unlawful, would not make the accused a part of the conspiracy like giving shelter to an absconder.
  3. Conspiracy is hatched in private or in secrecy. It is rarely possible to establish a conspiracy by direct evidence. Usually, both the existence of the conspiracy and its objects have to be inferred from the circumstances and the conduct of the accused.
  4. Conspirators may, for example, be enrolled in a chain A enrolling B, B enrolling C, and so on; and all will be members of a single conspiracy if they so intend and agree, even though each member knows only the person who enrolled him and the person whom he enrolls. There may be a kind of umbrella-spoke enrollment, where a single person at the centre doing the enrolling and all the other members being unknown to each other, though they know that there are to be other members. These are theories and in practice it may be difficult to tell whether the conspiracy in a particular case falls into which category. It may, however, even overlap. But then there has to be present mutual interest. Persons may be members of single conspiracy even though each is ignorant of the identity of many others who may have diverse role to play. It is not a part of the crime of conspiracy that all the conspirators need to agree to play the same or an active role.
  5. When two or more persons agree to commit a crime of conspiracy, then regardless of making or considering any plans for its commission, and despite the fact that no step is taken by any such person to carry out their common purpose, a crime is committed by each and every one who joins in the agreement. There has thus to be two conspirators and there may be more than that. To prove the charge of conspiracy it is not necessary that intended crime was committed or not. If committed it may further help prosecution to prove the charge of conspiracy.
  6. It is not necessary that all conspirators should agree to the common purpose at the same time. They may join with other conspirators at any time before the consummation of the intended objective, and all are equally responsible. What part each conspirator is to play may not be known to everyone or the fact as to when a conspirator joined the conspiracy and when he left.
  7. A charge of conspiracy may prejudice the accused because it is forced them into a joint trial and the court may consider the entire mass of evidence against every accused. Prosecution has to produce evidence not only to show that each of the accused has knowledge of object of conspiracy but also of the agreement. In the charge of conspiracy court has to guard itself against the danger of unfairness to the accused. Introduction of evidence against some may result in the conviction of all, which is to be avoided. By means of evidence in conspiracy, which is otherwise inadmissible in the trial of any other substantive offence prosecution tries to implicate the accused not only in the conspiracy itself but also in the substantive crime of the alleged conspirators. There is always difficulty in tracing the precise contribution of each member of the conspiracy but then there has to be cogent and convincing evidence against each one of the accused charged with the offence of conspiracy. As observed by Judge Learned Hand that “this distinction is important today when many prosecutors seek to sweep within the dragnet of conspiracy all those who have been associated in any degree whatever with the main offenders”.
  8. As stated above it is the unlawful agreement and not its accomplishment, which is the gist or essence of the crime of conspiracy. Offence of criminal conspiracy is complete even though there is no agreement as to the means by which the purpose is to be accomplished. It is the unlawful agreement, which is the gravaman of the crime of conspiracy. The unlawful agreement which amounts to a conspiracy need not be formal or express, but may be inherent in and inferred from the circumstances, especially declarations, acts, and conduct of the conspirators. The agreement need not be entered into by all the parties to it at the same time, but may be reached by successive actions evidencing their joining of the conspiracy.
  9. It has been said that a criminal conspiracy is a partnership in crime, and that there is in each conspiracy a joint or mutual agency for the prosecution of a common plan. Thus, if two or more persons enter into a conspiracy, any act done by any of them pursuant to the agreement is, in contemplation of law, the act of each of them and they are jointly responsible therefor. This means that everything said, written or done by any of the conspirators in execution or furtherance of the common purpose is deemed to have been said, done, or written by each of them. And this joint responsibility extends not only to what is done by any of the conspirators pursuant to the original agreement but also to collateral acts incident to and growing out of the original purpose. A conspirator is not responsible, however, for acts done by a co-conspirator after termination of the conspiracy. The joinder of a conspiracy by a new member does not create a new conspiracy nor does it change the status of the other conspirators, and the mere fact that conspirators individually or in groups perform different tasks to a common end does not split up a conspiracy into several different conspiracies.

A man may join a conspiracy by word or by deed. However, criminal responsibility for a conspiracy requires more than a merely passive attitude towards an existing conspiracy. One who commits an overt act with knowledge of the conspiracy is guilty. And one who tacitly consents to the object of a conspiracy and goes along with other conspirators, actually standing by while the others put the conspiracy into effect, is guilty though he intends to take no active part in the crime.


  1. (1964) 2 SCR 378.
  2. (1998) 4 SCC 351.
  3. AIR 1940 PC 176.
  4. 1974 (4) SCC 611 at 613.

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