The Indian Penal Code of 1860 deals with the concept of joint and group liability for criminal
offences primarily in the following sections: S. 34, S. 35, S. 37, S.38, S. 149, S. 120-A,
S.121-A, S. 396 and S. 460.
Section 34: Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention- When a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.
Section 34 can easily be understood by subdividing its essentials into three basic ingredients:
(1) A criminal act must be done by several persons.
(2) The criminal act must be to further the common intention of all.
(3) There must be participation of all the persons in furthering the common intention.
Section 35: When such an act is criminal by reason of its being done with a criminal knowledge or Intention- Whenever an act, which is criminal only by reason of its being done with a criminal knowledge or intention, is done by several persons, each of such persons who joins in the act with such knowledge or intention is liable for the act in the same manner as if the act were done by him alone with that knowledge or intention.
Section 37: Cooperation by doing one of several acts constituting an offence- When an offence is committed by means of several acts, whoever intentionally cooperates in the commission of that offence by doing any one of those acts, either singly or jointly with any other person, commits that offence. This can be best explained by using the example of a conspiracy to commit a criminal act. Here, the cumulative effect of the act, and not the share of each conspirator involved determines the measure of criminal liability of each conspirator.
Section 38: Persons concerned in a criminal act may be guilty of different offences- Where several persons are engaged or concerned in the commission of a criminal act, they may be guilty of different offences by means of that act.
Section 120-A: Criminal Conspiracy- When two or more persons agree to do, or cause to be
1) an illegal act, or
2) an act which is not illegal by illegal means, such an agreement is designated a criminal
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. In a case, the House of Lords has stated that so long as [the unlawful design rests in intention only it is not indictable. When two agree to carry it into effect, the very plot is an act in itself and the act of each of the parties promise against promise actus contra actum capable of being enforced if lawful, punishable if for a criminal object or for the use of criminal means.” Under the IPC as well, no consummation as such of the crime needs to be achieved o attempted. The agreement to commit the act is offence enough. The rationale behind the law of conspiracy as an inchoate crime is this, that the act of agreeing with another person to commit a crime is a sufficiently compulsive act along the road of criminality to make a person subject to discipline by the law.
Section 121 A: Conspiracy to commit offences punishable by S. 121- Whoever within or without India conspires to overawe, by means of criminal force or the show of criminal force, the Central Government or the State Government, shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Section 121 deals with waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war against the Government of India. Clearly, Section 121A deals with conspiracies which have the political object of overthrowing the reigning government. The word ‘overawe’ clearly imports more than the creation of apprehension of alarm or fear. It connotes the creation, of a situation, in which the government is compelled to choose between yielding to force or exposing the government or the members of the public to a very serious danger.
Section 149: Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object- If an offence is committed by any member of an unlawful assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly, or such as the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed in prosecution of that object, every person who, at the time of the committing of that offence, is a member of the same assembly, is guilty of that offence.
Thus, the essentials of this provision are:
1. There must be an unlawful assembly.
2. The offence must have been committed by one or the other member of the assembly in
prosecution of the common object of the unlawful assembly; and
3. The offence must be such as the members of the unlawful assembly knew it to be likely to be committed in prosecution of the common object. In addition, Section 396 (Dacoity with Murder) and Section 460 (lurking house-trespass and
housebreaking by night when resulting in death or grievous hurt) are also provisions which attract the doctrine of joint liability under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.