When two or more person comes together to commit a criminal act then each of them will be held liable as if that criminal act is done by them individually and separately. This is called the principle of Joint liability under IPC. To attract the principle of Joint liability there must be a Criminal act done by two or more people with a common intention and a sense of pre-arranged plan between them.
Section 34 and Section 149 deals with the concepts of this principle of joint liability. Section 34 actually indicates that if two or more people intentionally do anything together, it will be considered the same as if they had each done it separately. Every individual becomes accountable for every other person’s actions when parties come together with a common intention to carry out an agreed-upon task; since they share the same objective they must share the same responsibility.
Section 34 of the IPC
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.
From the Above reading, we can conclude that if the common intention leads to the commission of a crime each one of the persons sharing the common intention is constructively held liable for the criminal offense done by one or more of them.
Essential Elements to apply the principle of Joint liability
To attract the principle of joint liability there have to be the following necessary elements in the case
- there should be a criminal offense
- involvement of two or more persons in the above-stated criminal act
- presence of a common intention
There are a few other elements that should be seen as per the situation and circumstances of the case
- Pre-arranged plan
- Physical presence
Pre-arranged plan: means prior concert or prior meeting of minds i.e. the accused having a common intention should have met independently and discussed the common intention. They all had knowledge of the offense before committing the same. However, there can be a case where the accused have not met prior to the commission of the offense and developed a common intention on the spot.
In Paras Raja Manikyala Rao v State of A.P., it was held that a common intention to commit a particular offense can well be developed on the spot depending upon the situation and the circumstances of the case. Thus pre-concert in the sense of a distinct previous plan is not necessary to be proved.
Participation and Physical Presence
For the application of section 34, some participation of all the accused in the commission of the criminal act is necessary with a common intention with all other accused. In the absence of such participation without a common intention, you cannot apply section 34 to the case.
On the other hand physical presence of the accused at the crime scene is not necessary for the application of this section. An accused can be a party to a crime sitting and controlling things from a distant place.
In Aizaz and others Vs State of U.P., it was held that Participation in a criminal act in some manner was an essential element to attract section 34 but physical presence at the scene of the crime was not always a necessary element.
Application of Section 34
In terms to discuss the applicability of Section 34, the scope of the liability was to be decided first. The courts required sincere guidelines to decide whether section 34 is applicable to a certain case or not.
A systematic approach to apply section 34 was provided in the famous case of Mahboob Shah Vs Emperor.
For the application of section 34, the following principles were laid down by the court in the Mahboob Shah Vs Emperor.
- According to Section 34 of the Penal Code, the essential element of liability is the existence of a Common intention that drives the accused and results in the commission of a crime.
- For the application of section 34, there must be a criminal act that has been carried out by one of the accused in furtherance of the common intention. In such a situation the liability for the crime may be imposed on any one of the persons in the same manner as if the acts were done by him alone.
- Common intention, as defined by section 34, implies a pre-arranged plan.
- In order to convict the accused of an offense under section 34, it must be shown that the unlawful act was carried out in accordance with the concerted or pre-arranged plan.
- When the intention of an individual cannot be proved directly from the evidence then, the intention of that individual must be inferred from the conduct and relevant circumstances of the case.
- A proper distinction must be done between ‘similar intention’ and ‘common intention’ before concluding the case. Similar intention may vary from common intention drastically according to the circumstances of the case.
- Inference of common intention should be drawn only when there is a certain degree of assurance and it is a necessary inference deductible from the circumstances of the case.
Barendra Kumar Ghosh V Emperor ; This case also contains similar guidelines explaining the liability of a person and the application of section 34
the court held that
- Even if a person did not directly participate in the crime but aided the main accused with the common intention to commit the criminal act, he was equally liable for the act committed by the other accused.
- Section 34 deals with all such acts by several persons if those acts are done in furtherance of a common intention then each person is liable for the result of those acts. This liability will be considered as if each accused has done the action all by himself.
- A criminal act is the combination of several criminal behaviors that constitutes an offense for which an individual would face punishment if they were all done independently.
- If the criminal act has been done by one of the accused in furtherance of the common intention to commit the particular crime then all the other persons who share the common intention can be held liable for the crime.
Supreme Court’s comment on the application of Section 34.
In Suresh V. State of U.P., the Supreme Court held that the accused must have taken some action that has a connection to the offense in order to attract the application of section 34 of the I.P.C. If the defendant does not try any act at the scene but keeps the common intention in mind, he or she is not liable under section 34.
The Court held that it is even if the person is guarding the scene of the crime to facilitate other accused, it will be enough to be booked under section 34. The act need not be overt, it would be enough if it is only a covert act provided that such act is proved to have been done by the co-accused in the furtherance of the common intention.
To attract the application of section 34 of the I.P.C it must be established beyond any doubt that the criminal act was done by several persons in furtherance of a common intention of all. There must be sufficient evidence to draw the conclusion that everyone involved in the conduct had a common intention to commit the crime that was ultimately committed by one or more of the participants.
Common intention must have existed prior to the commission of the crime, demonstrating a pre-arranged and concerted plan. The pre-arranged plan may have developed on the spot while the offence was being committed, but the most important factor is that the said plan must have existed prior to the act that constitutes the offence.