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Prior Meeting of Minds Necessary for Conviction Under Section 34 of the IPC: SC

The principle of vicarious liability under Section 34 of the IPC states, “when a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all”, each of those persons would be liable for ‘that act’ in the same manner as if it were done by him alone. (Para.13)


[Arising out of Special Leave Petition (Crl.) D.No.2645 of 2021]

Decided on March 22, 2021.

This judgment has been delivered by a division bench of the Supreme Court, consisting of Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice KM Joseph.

This appeal challenges the judgment passed by the High Court of Himachal Pradesh in 2016. The brief facts of this case are that Sukhwinder Singh, the original informant, stated that his maternal uncles, Sadhu Singh and Nirmal Singh, along with their driver, Ramesh Kumar, had murdered his friend, Daljit Singh.

Thereafter, the three accused were convicted under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the IPC; Section 323 read with Section 34 of the IPC; and Section 324 of the IPC, and sentenced to life imprisonment under the first count, rigorous imprisonment for one year and three years under the second and third counts respectively. They filed an appeal to the High Court, which was dismissed. This dismissal was accepted by the accused Nirmal Singh. However, Sadhu Singh, preferred a Special Leave Petition to the Supreme Court, which was dismissed by this Court in 2019.

Mr. PK Dey, learned advocate for the appellant, Ramesh Singh, forwarded the following arguments. The appellant was neither armed with any Lathi or Danda, and the informant had not attributed any overt act to him, as had been attributed to the other two accused. According to the statement of the informant, the appellant had also run away from the spot and raised a cry. Therefore, the appellant could not be said to be guilty under Section 34 of the IPC.

Mr. Abhimanyu Jhamba, learned Advocate appearing for the State, however, relied upon the facts that the appellant had come along with accused Sadhu Singh and Nirmal Singh who were separately armed with Danda and Sickle; and that the appellant had given fist and kick blows. In the submission of the learned counsel, these facts pointed towards active participation on part of the appellant and, therefore, the courts below had rightly found him guilty with the aid of Section 34 of the IPC [Para 12].

The Supreme Court reiterated the wording of Section 34, providing the meaning of vicarious liability, which arises when a criminal act is performed by several persons, in furtherance of the common intention of all. It stated that first, the PW1 had not overtly attributed any act to the appellant in regard to the assault of the deceased. Secondly, the appellant was also not identified to be armed. Thirdly, he had not facilitated the assault. The only common act performed by him was that he had accompanied the other accused, and assaulted the accused with Danda and fist blows.

Further, the witness had narrated that the other accused, Sadhu Singh and Nirmal Singh, were the ones who had abused his friends at their residence, leading to a quarrel. The appellant was clearly not part of such quarrel.

Next, the Court referred to previous judgments of the apex Court. In Dharam Pal and others V. State of Haryana, it was held that vicarious liability is satisfied when there is a prior meeting of the minds of the principal culprit and his companions. The existence of such common intention depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. It becomes clear from the conduct of the companions, or some other clear and cogent incriminating piece of evidence. In the absence of such material, the companions cannot justifiably be held guilty for every crime committed by the principal offender.

In Vithal Laxman Chalawadi and others V. State of Karnataka, there was, similarly, no overt act attributed to the accused. Lastly, in Bishu Sarkar and others V. State of West Bengal, the accused had merely participated in the scuffle, and there was no clear evidence to show that such act was intended to enable the principal offender to deal the fatal blow to the victim. The Court, in this case, had granted benefit of doubt to the appellants and acquitted them of the charge under Section 302, read with Section 34.

Based on the above observations and arguments, the Supreme Court was dissatisfied with the argument that the appellant shared the common intention, with the other accused, of committing the murder of the deceased. It was also not shown that he had done anything in furtherance of the common intention, as he was unarmed and was not attributed any overt specific fatal act.

In this regard, the Court gave him the benefit of doubt, and absolved him of the liability under Section 34 of the IPC with Sections 302 and 324. He was, however, found guilty of the offences punishable under Section 323 read with Section 34.

Navyaa Shukla



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