Explained: Law of criminal conspiracy

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

Section 120A and 120B of Indian Penal code define criminal conspiracy and its punishment respectively. According to IPC criminal conspiracy reads as –

120A. Definition of criminal conspiracy

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 offense 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.

Explanation – it is immaterial whether the illegal act is the ultimate object of such agreement or is merely incidental to that object.

Here it has been provided that criminal conspiracy is not a crime in itself there shall be a substantive offense aiding the offense of criminal conspiracy.

120B. Punishment of criminal conspiracy.—

(1) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offense 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 offense.

(2) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy other than a criminal conspiracy to commit an offense punishable as aforesaid shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months, or with fine or with both.

The article covers the concept of criminal conspiracy an inchoate offense explained with illustrations and the landmark judgments.

Law of criminal conspiracy: General concept

Criminal conspiracy is a punishable offense under IPC, it requires two or more persons to commit a crime of criminal conspiracy and they shall agree on certain terms conditions between them. Mens Rea and Actus Reus as well to constitute a crime of criminal conspiracy which means that mere planning is not punishable the actual action that is illegal or legal but done by illegal means must take place.

In English law, ” if two or more person agrees together to do something contrary to law, or wrongful or harmful towards another person, or to use unlawful means in the carrying out of an object not otherwise unlawful, the person who so agree commit the crime of criminal conspiracy.”

The object of criminalizing conspiracy is to punish a person or to provide deterrence to a person who is agreeing to or planning to commit an act which is unlawful which makes it an independent offense and it is separately punishable.

To establish the fact that the criminal conspiracy had taken place it is essential to establish that there was an agreement between the parties for doing an unlawful act.

It does not create a constructive liability or relationship like principal and agent since it is based on illegal agreement.

Salient feature

The charge of criminal conspiracy cannot be frame against alone accused.

Criminal conspiracy is an inchoate crime or incomplete crime there has to be some other substantive offense aiding it.

One cannot be held guilty of conspiracy if they are –

Husband and wife

Under the age of criminal responsibility

An intended victim of the offense

Conspiracy can be of two types-

Wheel Conspiracy – here X may be in contact with A, B, and C separately. They never meet.

Chain Conspiracy – here X talks to A, A talks to B, B talks to C. here X and C never meet.

Constituting elements

In case of R v. Parnell (1881), J. Fitzgerald stated that “criminal conspiracy has been aptly described as divisible under three heads: where the end to be attained is in itself a crime, where the object is lawful but the means to be resorted to are unlawful, and where the object is to do injury to a third party or a class, though if the wrong were effected by a single individual it would be a wrong but not a crime”.

In simple words, the crime of criminal conspiracy constitutes the following elements:-

  • Presence of two or more persons
  • Agreement among the said persons
  • To either do or to cause to be done “an illegal act” or  To either do or to cause to be done “an act by illegal means”

It can be illustrated as: if six friends A, B, C, D, E, and F decide to kill their common enemy X. They sit together and plan how to execute the murder of X.

In this case, there were more than two persons and also there is a prior meeting of mind of all the six persons to commit an offense and they agreed to do the illegal act. Here all three conditions of the checklist are fulfilled hence it constitutes a crime of criminal conspiracy.

Landmark Judgments

In Rajeev Gandhi Assassination case: State through SP CBI v. Nalini & Ors. (1999)5 SCC 253.

 In this case, a criminal conspiracy was termed as a partnership in crime in as much as any act done by any of the conspirators according to the agreement is, in contemplation of law, the act of each of them and they are jointly responsible, therefore. 

 Regina v. Murphy (1873) 173 ER 502.

 The principle that all the conspirators shall be held liable for each other’s activities for which the conspire was recognized and followed in the case of Yakub Abdul Razzak Mamon v. State of Maharashtra MANU/SC/0268/2013.

Yash Pal Mithal v. State of Punjab 1977 SC 2433.

 In this case, it was held that the very agreement of the offense shall be treated as the ingredient of the offense. 

Kehar Singh v. The State (Delhi Administration)  AIR 1988 SC 1883.

– to prove the offense of criminal conspiracy it is not easy to get the direct evidence so the court can rely on circumstantial evidence.

In State v. Navjot Sindhu (2005) 11 SCC 600.

Hon’ble Supreme court observed that the necessary aspects to constitute an offense of criminal conspiracy are:

  • The need for illegal agreement
  • No need for an overt act
  • Nature of agreement necessary: either expressed or implied
  • The extent of comity or agreement or intention on a party of conspirator necessary
  • The extent of involvement of each conspirator necessary in respect of various intended offense of conspiracy
  • The extent of temporal involvement of each conspirator is necessary
  • Period for which conspiracy exists.

Kapildeo Singh vs. The King – in this case, the authorized court gave the decision regarding the criminal conspiracy and held that it is not essential that more than one person should be convicted for the offense of criminal conspiracy. It is enough if the court is in the position to find that two or more person was actually concerned in the criminal conspiracy.


Criminal conspiracy is an incomplete offense in itself that means it not a crime in itself it requires a meeting of the criminal mind and a substantive offense aiding it. For creating liability under section 120B of Indian Penal Code at least two persons are essential for illegal agreement and each person involved in the very agreement shall be equally liable for each other’s act this was specifically established to create liability of a person actually initiated the offense committed. Mere engagement to do an illegal act is an offense. The actual commission of an act is not necessary. The act done shall be illegal or done by illegal means. The liability is based on an illegal agreement.

In the case of Vinayak v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1984 SC 1793

the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that a single person cannot be held liable for criminal conspiracy, where all accused except one was acquitted, the order for acquittal of that person was passed.

Author: Anushika Parashar from Mody University,Lacchamangarh.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala.

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