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Criminal Conspiracy

Criminal Conspiracy
Criminal Conspiracy


Criminal conspiracy is a significant concept in criminal law, addressing situations where two or more individuals agree to commit an illegal act. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) provides a detailed framework for understanding and prosecuting criminal conspiracy under Section 120A and Section 120B. This framework is essential for tackling organised crime and ensuring that those who plan and prepare to commit crimes are held accountable, even if the intended crime is not ultimately executed.

Text of Section 120A IPC

"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: 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."


Section 120A 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 conspiracy is the agreement itself, and an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy is required only when the agreement does not involve an offence. This provision shows the importance of the collaborative element in criminal conspiracies, emphasising that the crime lies in the mutual agreement to achieve an unlawful objective.

Essential Elements of Criminal Conspiracy

  1. Agreement: The fundamental element of criminal conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons. This agreement is the basis of the conspiracy, regardless of whether the illegal act is actually carried out.

  2. Illegal Act or Illegal Means: The agreement must be to commit an illegal act or to achieve a legal act by illegal means. The focus is on the nature of the agreement rather than the completion of the act.

  3. Overt Act: For non-offense agreements, there must be some act in furtherance of the conspiracy. This ensures that mere discussions or idle talk do not amount to conspiracy without some concrete step towards the execution of the plan.


Landmark Cases

State of Maharashtra v. Som Nath Thapa (1996) In this case, the Supreme Court of India emphasised that the essence of criminal conspiracy is the agreement to commit a crime. The court held that it is not necessary for all conspirators to know each other, as long as they share the common intention to achieve the illegal objective. The agreement itself constitutes the offence, and the prosecution must prove that the accused had a meeting of minds to commit the criminal act.

Yash Pal Mittal v. State of Punjab (1977) The Supreme Court in this case stated that the prosecution must establish that there was an agreement between the conspirators to commit an offence. The court highlighted that direct evidence of the agreement is often unavailable, so circumstantial evidence can be used to infer the existence of the conspiracy.

Kehar Singh v. State (Delhi Administration) (1988) In this case, relating to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Supreme Court elaborated on the nature of criminal conspiracy. The court held that an overt act is necessary to prove the conspiracy when the agreement does not involve an offence. The decision clarified that the prosecution must show active participation and a shared intention among the conspirators.

Section 120B IPC: Punishment for Criminal Conspiracy

"(1) Whoever 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 no express provision is made in this Code for the punishment of such a conspiracy, be punished in the same manner as if he had abetted such offence. (2) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy other than a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable as aforesaid shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months, or with fine, or with both."

Section 120B prescribes the punishment for criminal conspiracy based on the nature of the intended offence. If the conspiracy is to commit a serious offence punishable with death, life imprisonment, or rigorous imprisonment of two years or more, the conspirators are punished as if they had abetted the offence. For less serious conspiracies, the punishment is imprisonment up to six months, a fine, or both. This section ensures that the severity of the punishment corresponds to the gravity of the intended crime.


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