Consider a case dealing with multiple accused, so the question arises that should the law deal with the individuals with their separate individual acts and through separate charges, or should they be dealt as a group if an act is done by an individual on behalf of others. These above situations can be categorised accordingly as per the IPC under the concept of common intention and common object.
Common intention (Section 34)
“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 section it can be derived that the following categories must be comprised to consider an act done under common intention:
- Minimum 2 persons are required to form the case of common intention to commit an offence.
- The multiple accused must have a meeting of minds, it is also an essential component to prove the common intention of the accused.
It must also be kept in mind that section 34 is not itself a punishing clause. It must be read with another punishing clause. Example: Section 302 r/w section 34. The significance of section 34 is one person’s conduct will bind another person’s conduct. An accused will be liable for this offence which was done in furtherance of the common intention.
The concept of common intention is briefly discussed with the help of certain case laws:
Ramachander v. State of Rajasthan (1970)
Common intention or pre-arranged plan or prior meeting of minds. The meeting of mind needs to be proved to be liable under section 34. The mere fact that the two accused were found in the crime scene firing the victims does not show that they both had a common intention.
Nandu Rastogi v. State of Bihar (1985)
The judgment pronounced, in this case, was it is not necessary for every accused to attack the victim in order to attract section 34, it would be sufficient if proved that each accused did some similar or separate acts in furtherance of the common intention i.e. to attack the victim.
Suresh v. State of UP (2001)
The main question that arose, in this case, is that whether a person standing outside a crime scene is also liable under section 34 or not?
As per KT Thomas to be liable under section 34, the act must be done by more than 1 person in furtherance of common intention, participation must have some connection with the offence committed. The act can be an overt (visible act) as well as a covert act (illegal omission). According to him the presence of the accused at the crime scene is immaterial. Nonparticipating accused can be prosecuted under a criminal conspiracy.
As per RP Sethi, the overt act is not necessary for fixing liability. Proof of meeting of minds whether direct or circumstantial is a necessary element. According to him accused must be physically present in the crime scene and did not prevent the criminal act to be committed. Distance from the crime scene does not exclude section 34.
The two opinions have been cited in over 120+ case laws thus determining the importance of such arguments.
Common object (Section 149)
Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of an 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”.
To understand the concept of the common object we must understand the concept of unlawful assembly (Section 141).
“Unlawful assembly. —An assembly of five or more persons is designated an “unlawful assembly” if the common object of the persons composing that assembly is—
— To overawe by criminal force, or show of criminal force,[the Central or any State Government or Parliament or the Legislature of any State], or any public servant in the exercise of the lawful power of such public servant; or
— To resist the execution of any law, or of any legal process; or
— To commit any mischief or criminal trespass, or other offence; or
— By means of criminal force, or show of criminal force, to any person, to take or obtain possession of any property, or to deprive any person of the enjoyment of a right of way, or of the use of water or other incorporeal rights of which he is in possession or enjoyment, or to enforce any right or supposed right; or
— By means of criminal force, or show of criminal force, to compel any person to do what he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do what he is legally entitled to do”.
In the first clause, mere intimidation without the use of criminal force or show of criminal force is not unlawful. A public servant intimidating within its lawful power cannot be considered as unlawful but intimidating beyond the power provided to them can be considered as unlawful. In the second clause, a group of 5 or more individuals cannot prevent from executing any law or process of law unless the law or process used is illegal, for example, illegal arrest or unlawful search. In the third clause, an assembly cannot commit any kind of mischief or criminal trespass or any other offence. ‘other offence’ includes all the offences as stated under Section 40 of IPC. In the fourth clause, the presence of criminal force is also an essential component to consider the act of the assembly as unlawful. Criminal force to any person, or obtain possession of the property, or preventing any person to enjoy the use of property under its possession or preventing the enjoyment of something which can be considered as a right. In the fifth clause, no assembly of 5 or more persons can coerce any person to do any act which is illegal nor can that person be forced to do any illegal omissions.
So, being familiar with the concept of unlawful assembly, let’s understand the concept of common object. Unlike common intention, common object deals with only those cases which are stated in Section 141 as discussed above. The essential elements of the common object are:
- The assembly must consist of 5 or more individuals and such assembly must be unlawful as stated under Section 141.
- Membership in the assembly is an essential element. Individuals cannot be forced to be a member of the assembly; it should be totally voluntary. Individuals who were members during the commission of the offence will be liable for the act.
- The act needs to be done by at least one member of the assembly and this would make the whole assembly liable for the act.
- The presence of common object of the assembly would make a person liable, even if there was no intention to commit that act.
- All the acts done or the acts which are likely to be committed to fulfil the common object will be liable under Section 149.
Section 149 is not a punishing clause itself. It needs to read with another punishing clause. For example: Section 302 r/w Section 149.
Following are some case laws that can be helpful for a proper understanding of the concept.
Mizaji v. State of UP (1958)
In this case, only one person was involved in firing a shot at a person but the whole assembly was made liable for such shooting. This is because the common object of the assembly was to cause any injury to any person who obstructs them from doing their work. So, all the accused were made liable under section 302 r/w section 149.
Allaudin Mian v. State of Bihar (1989)
In contrast with the above-mentioned case, in an unlawful assembly of 6 people, 2 were involved in murdering a victim. But it was held that only the two accused were liable for the act because the common object of the assembly was only to kill another person, not the victim. So, in this case, there was a nexus between the common object and the offence committed and hence all the accused were not liable for the act of murder except the two involved in the act.
Kotta Prakashan and ors v. State of Kerala (1996)
This case dealt with the membership in the assembly. Once a person has ceased to be a member of an unlawful assembly, he is not liable for offences committed subsequent to such cessation of membership. It is necessary for a person to be a member of that unlawful assembly when such a criminal act was committed.
Basic distinction between common intention and common object
- Common intention (section 34) applies when 2 or more people are involved whereas common object (section 149) applies when 5 or more people are involved.
- Common intention applies for committing any offence whereas common object applies when offences are within the categories of Section 141.
- Participation is mandatory in the case of common intention whereas membership is necessary in the case of the common object.
The above article is a basic understanding of the topic’s Common intention and Common object under IPC. The following sources have been referred to while writing this article.
- Indian Penal Code
- Ramachander v. State of Rajasthan (1970) [1970 Cr.L.J. 653]
- Nandu Rastogi v. State of Bihar (2001) [MANU/SC/0851/2002]
- Suresh v. State of UP (2001) [MANU/SC/0153/2001]
- Mizaji v. State of UP (1958) [MANU/SC/0040/1958]
- Allaudin Mian v. State of Bihar (1989) [MANU/SC/0648/1988]
- Kotta Prakashan and ors v. State of Kerala (1996) [MANU/SC/0883/1998]
Soham Sinha | Bennett University