Sunday, 4 October 2015

Landmark judgment on conspiracy in criminal case

We find from the judgment that the Courts below have committed an error in first holding the existence of conspiracy and proceeding on that basis and then taking tit-bits in evidence to suggest that those tit-bits would connect the accused with the conspiracy as the conspirators. The law on conspiracy has been stated time and again by this Court. In Major E.G. Barsay v. State of Bombay reported in AIR 1961 SC 1762, Subba Rao, J. observed:
"The gist of the offence 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."
In Halsbury's Laws of England the definition of conspiracy is as under:
"Conspiracy consists in the agreement of two or more persons to do an unlawful act, or to do a lawful act by unlawful means. It is an indictable offence at common law. The essence of the offence of conspiracy is the fact of combination by agreement. The agreement may be express or implied or in part express and in part implied.. and the offence continues to be committed so long as the combination persists, that is until the conspiratorial agreement is terminated by completion of its performance or by abandonment or frustration or however it may be".
In American Jurisprudence, 2nd Edn., Vol.16, Page 129, the following definition of conspiracy is given: "A conspiracy is said to be an agreement between two or more persons to accomplish together a criminal or unlawful act or to achieve by criminal or unlawful means an act not in itself criminal or unlawful ... The unlawful agreement and not its accomplishment is the gist or essence of the crime of conspiracy." Lastly, in celebrated case of Kehar Singh & ors. v. State (Delhi Administration) [1988 (3) SCC 609] it was observed by Jagannatha Shetty, J.:
"The gist of the offence of conspiracy then lies, not in doing the act, or effecting the purpose for which the conspiracy is formed, nor in attempting to do them, nor in inciting others to do them, but in the forming of the scheme or agreement between the parties. Agreement is essential. Mere knowledge, or even discussion, of the plan is not, per se enough" (emphasis ours) In the celebrated judgment of State v. Nalini & Ors. [1999 (5) SCC 253] S.S.M. Mohd. Quadri, J. relying upon Van Riper vs. United States (13 F 2d. 961) (2 nd Cir, 1926) observed:
"When men enter into an agreement for an unlawful end, they become ad hoc agents for one another and have made a partnership in crime."
Other celebrated decisions on the question of conspiracy are Yashpal Mittal v. State of Punjab [1977 (4) SCC 540] as also the State of Himachal Pradesh v. Krishan Lal Pradhan & Ors. [1987 (2) SCC 17]. It has been held in Mohd. Khalid v. State of West Bengal [2002 (7) SCC 334] and in Mohammed Usman Mohd. Hussain Maniyar v. State of Maharashatra [1981 (2) SCC 443] that the agreement amongst the conspirators can be inferred by necessary implication. All these cases together came to be considered in State of NCT of Delhi v. Navjot Sandhu @ Afsan Guru[2005 (11) SCC 600] where even the celebrated judgments of V.C. Shukla vs. State [1980 (2) SCC 665], came to be considered wherein it was observed by Fazal Ali, J.:
"In most cases it will be difficult to get direct evidence of the agreement, but a conspiracy can be inferred even from circumstances giving rise to a conclusive or irresistible inference of an agreement between two or more persons to commit an offence."
56. It is significant at this stage to note the observations in V.C. Shukla (cited supra) wherein it was laid that in order to prove criminal conspiracy, there must be evidence direct or circumstances to show that there was an agreement between two or more persons to commit an offence. It was further held that there must be a meeting of minds resulting in ultimate decision taken by the conspirators regarding the commission of the offence and where the factum of conspiracy is sought to be inferred even from circumstances giving rise to a conclusive or irresistible inference of an agreement between two or more persons to commit an offence. Relying on that, Pasayat, J. in Esher Singh v. State of A.P. [2004 (11) SCC 585] observed that the prosecution has to discharge its onus of proving the case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. The circumstances in a case, when taken together on their face value, should indicate the meeting of the minds between the conspirators for the intended object of committing an illegal act or an act which is not illegal, by illegal means. A few bits here and a few bits there on which the prosecution relies cannot be held to be adequate for connecting the accused with the commission of the crime of criminal conspiracy. It has to be shown that all means adopted and illegal acts done were in furtherance of the object of conspiracy hatched. The circumstances relied for the purposes of drawing an inference should be prior in point of time than the actual commission of the offence in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy.
57. In Esher Singh's case (cited supra) this Court held that the conspiracy was proved between the nine accused. A systematic role played by each accused was highlighted. Pasayat, J. in that judgment also considered the decision in Bhagwan Swarup Lal Bishan Lal etc.etc vs. State of Maharashtra [AIR 1965 SC 682] and observed that there is no difference between the mode of proof of the offence of conspiracy and that of any other offence. The other decisions in State of Maharashtra v. Som Nath Thapa [JT 1996 (4) SC 615]), Ajay Aggarwal v. Union of India & Ors. [1993 (3) SCC 609] as also Mohd. Usman's case (cited supra) and Yashpal Mittal (cited supra) were considered in that decision. The law laid down in Ajay Agrawal's case (cited supra) was reiterated and it was held that it is not necessary that each conspirator must know all the details of the scheme nor be a participant at every stage. It is necessary that they should agree for design or object of the conspiracy. Conspiracy is conceived as having three elements: (1) agreement; (2) between two or more persons by whom the agreement is effected; and (3) a criminal object, which may be either the ultimate aim of the agreement, or may constitute the means, or one of the means by which that aim is to be accomplished. These decisions were thereafter considered in Navjot Sandhu's case (cited supra). In K.R. Purushothaman v. State of Kerala [2005 (12) SCC 631] a specific observation was made to the effect that all conspirators need not take active part in the commission of each and every conspiratorial act but, mere knowledge, even discussion, of the plan would not constitute conspiracy. It was further observed that each one of the circumstances should be proved beyond reasonable doubt and such circumstances proved must form a chain of events from which the only irresistible conclusion is about the guilt of the accused which can be safely drawn and no other hypothesis of the guilt is possible. We respectfully agree with the law laid down in Navjot Sandhu's case and K.R. Purushothaman's case.
Supreme Court of India
John Pandian vs State Rep.By Inspector Of ... on 3 December, 2010
Author: V Sirpurkar
Bench: V.S. Sirpurkar, Cyriac Joseph
Read full judgment here; click here

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