Section 120B IPC – Meeting Of Minds Between Conspirators Must Be Proved To Establish Guilt Of Accused: Supreme Court
A two-judge Bench of Justice R. Subhash Reddy and Justice Hrishikesh Roy has held to prove the charge of conspiracy, within the ambit of Section 120-B IPC, it is necessary to establish there was an agreement between the parties for doing an unlawful act.
The Court also held, "It is to be noted that it is difficult to establish conspiracy by direct evidence at all, but at the same time, in absence of any evidence to show meeting of minds between the conspirators for the intended object of committing an illegal act, it is not safe to hold a person guilty for offences under Section 120-B of IPC."
Additional Advocate General Ms. Bansuri Swaraj appeared for the Respondent – The state of Haryana, Advocate Mr. Rishi Malhotra appeared for the Appellant-Accused during the proceedings before the Court.
An appeal was preferred by the Appellant-3rd Accused assailing the judgment of Punjab and Haryana High Court which had dismissed the appeal of the Appellant and upheld his conviction and order of sentence passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, Rewari.
In this case, the police officials were escorting four accused from Central Jail, Jaipur to be produced before CJM, Bhiwani. Upon reaching the railway station, four boys entered the compartment and attacked the police officials for rescuing the four accused. The accused that were in custody tried to escape and one of the accused also fired upon the Head Constable. The police were able to track down the accused however, the three remaining accused fled away.
All the four accused were charged under Sections 224, 225, 332, 353, 392, 307, 302, 120-B of the IPC and Section 25/54/59 of the Arms Act.
The Additional Sessions Judge had held all the accused guilty for commission of the aforesaid offences and were sentenced to life imprisonment along with a fine of Rs. 5,000/- each for the offence under Section 302 read with Section 120-B IPC, apart from a conviction for other offences.
It was contended by the Appellant before the Supreme Court that except for the alleged confessional statements of co-accused, there was no other acceptable evidence to connect the Appellant to the crime. Also, no independent witness was examined and no Test Identification Parade (TIP) was conducted.
While the Respondent argued that there was sufficient material on record that established the guilt of the accused, beyond a reasonable doubt.
Further the Addl. AG Ms. Bansuri pleaded that there was credible evidence to believe that the Appellant was a party to the accused group, who conspired together to rescue the other four accused, who were being taken by the police.
The Apex Court after analyzing the testimonies of the witnesses observed, "Except the vague and bald statement that the appellant herein is a member of alleged conspiracy, there is no other acceptable evidence on record to prove conspiracy. For the reasons not known, in a case of this nature, the investigating agency has not conducted TIP (Test Identification Parade). Except the alleged confessional statements of co-accused, there is no other evidence on record to implicate the appellant."
"It is fairly well settled, to prove the charge of conspiracy, within the ambit of Section 120-B, it is necessary to establish that there was an agreement between the parties for doing an unlawful act," the Bench opined.
Additionally, the Court held, "A few bits here and a few bits there on which prosecution relies, cannot be held to be adequate for connecting the accused with the commission of crime of criminal conspiracy. Even the alleged confessional statements of the co-accused, in absence of other acceptable corroborative evidence, is not safe to convict the accused."
The Court made a reference to the case Uppa alias Manjunatha v. State of Karnataka, where it was held that when an accused is held guilty and sentenced to imprisonment, confirmation of sentence by the High Court is justifiable only in the event of giving sound reasons upon analysis of material evidence.
A perusal of the judgment of the High Court reveals that except referring to depositions, High Court has not considered the evidence at all and confirmed the conviction and sentence as ordered by the Trial Court, the Bench observed.
Further, the Court asserted, "On close scrutiny of evidence on record, we are of the considered view that prosecution has failed to prove its case, that the appellant herein, has conspired with other accused for the offences for which he was charged. Except the alleged confessional statements of the co-accused and in absence of any other corroborative evidence, it is not safe to maintain the conviction and sentence imposed upon the Appellant."
Accordingly, the Court allowed the appeal and set aside the conviction and sentence imposed upon the Appellant-Accused and acquitted him of all the charges. The Court also directed for the release of the Appellant.