Sections 120A and 120B, as a part of Chapter Seven, were added to the Indian Penal Code by the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1913 with the view to overcome the gaps in Section 107, IPC which defines abetment. The addition of these two sections to the code has now made the commission of an overt act inessential when a conspiracy to commit a punishable offence is made.
Before Chapter 7 was added, conspiracy was considered to be solely a class of abetment in which the commission of an act or the unlawful omission of an act was carried out as a part of a particular conspiracy which then amounted to an offence, except in cases falling under Sections 121A, 311, 400, 401 and 402.
Section 120A deals with the definition of the offence of criminal conspiracy whereas Section 120B deals with its punishment.
As per Section 120A: Definition of criminal conspiracy.—When two or more persons 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.
As per Section 120B: Punishment of criminal conspiracy.—
(1) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with death, 2[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.]
All the individuals who take part in a criminal conspiracy are convicted and are also made liable to be punished as they are the ones who abet the offence which they then agree to commit. Therefore, this Section creates joint liability. When the offence of conspiracy is committed, it falls under this Section completely heedless of the fact that the further considerations as to whether or not the offences which were agreed to be committed have actually been committed or not.
If the act of creating and being a member of a criminal conspiracy is committed, then this act will be counted as an offence and hence will be punishable. Each and every member of the conspiracy is liable to the same extent.
The basic crux of the act of criminal conspiracy as an offence lies in the scheming and plotting which leads to the creation of illegal agreements between the parties. Since the agreement is entered into with the motive of violating the law, that is why a mere agreement to do an unlawful act between two or more people is considered a criminal conspiracy.
For an illegal agreement to be considered a criminal conspiracy, a mere knowledge of the plan or a simple discussion of it is not sufficient to attract this Section. There must be wrongful intention and the presence of an agreement between multiple people. Even a simple intention is not enough; however, as soon as that intention takes the shape of an agreement, a criminal conspiracy is created.
In cases involving criminal conspiracies, finding direct evidence is quite rare since most of the conspiracies are typically devised secretively. That is where circumstantial evidence comes into play. In cases concerning this offence, most of the evidence is inferential. Whenever a reasonable ground is established that the members of the conspiracy had conspired with wrongful intention and had entered into an agreement, then any act done by them in pursuance of their common intention becomes relevant for proving the existence of a criminal conspiracy.
In the case of Bimbadhar v. State of Orissa, AIR 1956 SC 469, it was observed by the Apex Court that it is not considered essential that each and every member of a criminal conspiracy should be cognizant of the acts carried out by their co-conspirators since the actions of the members are assumed to be in pursuance of the object of the conspiracy. The liability of each conspirator is decided on the basis of the conspiratorial agreement entered into by him along with his co-conspirators.
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