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Joint Liability in the Indian Penal Code: A Comprehensive Overview

Navigating Sections 34, 149, 109, and 120B of IPC

Joint Liability in the Indian Penal Code: A Comprehensive Overview


The Indian Penal Code (IPC) lays down the framework for criminal liability, which is crucial for understanding the legal system’s approach to crime and punishment. This article series focuses on sections 34, 149, 109, and 120B of the IPC, exploring the nuances of joint and constructive liability.

Indian Penal Code Section 34: Acts Done in Furtherance of Common Intention

Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code establishes joint liability in criminal acts committed by a group of individuals. It applies when several persons act together in furtherance of a common intention, holding each person liable as if they individually committed the entire act. The section emphasizes shared culpability, regardless of whether each participant actively carries out the criminal act

Key Judgments:

Ram Bias Singh v. State of Bihar:

  • Context: The case involved charges of murder and other offenses under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  • Application of Section: Section 34 was applied to establish joint liability, indicating that the accused acted with a common intention in committing the criminal act.
  • Outcome: Considering the evidence of common intention and involvement in the criminal act, the court convicted the accused under Section 34 along with other relevant sections of the IPC.

Barendra Kumar Ghosh v. King Emperor:

  • Context : Barendra Kumar Ghosh v. King Emperor is a landmark case in Indian jurisprudence.The case involved charges of murder against the accused, Barendra Kumar Ghosh.
  • Application of Section: Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code was invoked to establish joint liability. It was argued that even if the accused did not personally commit the overt act, they could be convicted if they shared a common intention and participated in the execution of the act.
  • Outcome: The accused, Barendra Kumar Ghosh, was convicted under Section 34 for his participation in the murder, despite not being the one who personally executed the act.

Section 34 of Indian Penal Code : Unlawful Assembly

Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code holds each member of an unlawful assembly collectively responsible for offenses committed in pursuit of the assembly’s common objective. In simpler terms, if individuals act together with a shared intention, each member can be held accountable for the crimes committed by the group in furtherance of their common goal. This section emphasizes shared liability for offenses committed as part of an unlawful assembly.

Notable Cases:

Mahendra Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2022): 

  • Context : The case involves an attack on the complainant’s family by a group while returning from lifting a tractor engine.
  • Application of Section: Section 148 IPC: Charged for rioting with deadly weapons. Sections 325/149 IPC (2 counts): Charged for causing grievous hurt with a common object.Section 323/149 IPC (4 counts): Charged for voluntarily causing hurt with a common object.
  • Outcome: The Trial Court convicted the appellants under Sections 148, 325/149, and 323/149 IPC. The High Court upheld the conviction, sentencing them to one year in prison and a Rs.500 fine under Section 325 read with Section 149 IPC.

Bhudeo Mandal v. State of Bihar: 

  • Context: An irrigation dispute led to a confrontation. Bhudeo Mandal allegedly delivered a fatal blow during the altercation, resulting in legal charges against the accused.
  • Application of Section: Bhudeo Mandal was convicted under Section 304 IPC. Other appellants faced charges under Section 326/149 IPC. The judge’s decision was contested due to insufficient evidence to support Section 149 IPC.
  • Outcome: The accused were acquitted of individual charges. The defense successfully argued that without clear proof of an unlawful common object, the fact that the accused were armed did not establish Section 149 IPC. The accused were discharged from bail without surrendering.

Section 120B of Indian Penal Code : Criminal Conspiracy

Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code deals with criminal conspiracy, emphasizing the agreement or planning of a crime. It specifically focuses on the conspiratorial aspect, distinct from the actual commission of the crime. The section underscores the significance of the agreement itself, highlighting that the act of conspiring to commit an offense is an offense in its own right.

Cases Related to Section 120B:

Kehar Singh v. State (Delhi Vidyut Board):

  • Context: Involved in the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
  • Application of Section: Section 120B was applied to establish a conspiracy behind the assassination.
  • Outcome: Kehar Singh was convicted under Section 120B for criminal conspiracy.

Iqbal Singh Marwah v. Meenakshi Marwah:

  • Context: The case involved the murder of Meenakshi Marwah.
  • Application of Section: Allegations of a conspiracy among family members to eliminate Meenakshi.
  • Outcome: The court applied Section 120B to establish the existence of a criminal conspiracy within the family in relation to Meenakshi’s murder.

Section 109: Abetment

Section 109 of the Indian Penal Code deals with abetment, a legal concept involving instigating or aiding in the commission of an offense. Notably, this section allows for the application of abetment charges even if the abettor is not physically present at the crime scene. The crucial factor is their involvement in instigating or aiding the commission of the offense, emphasizing the broader scope of liability for those who contribute to or influence the commission of a crime. This provision recognizes the varied ways individuals may contribute to criminal acts beyond direct physical presence, extending the reach of abetment charges.

Relevant Cases:

R v. Cunningham

  • Context: The case involved the defendant, Cunningham, who removed a gas meter from a house, creating a gas leak. The gas leak resulted in the poisoning of the house’s occupants.
  • Application of Section: Abetment: Cunningham’s actions were deemed as contributing to the commission of an offense (poisoning) through indirect means.This aligns with the broader concept of abetment, where one encourages, aids, or facilitates the commission of an offense.
  • Outcome: Cunningham was convicted of unlawfully and maliciously administering a noxious thing with the intent to injure, aggrieve, or annoy.

State of Maharashtra v. Mohd. Yakub (1980):

  • Context: Mohd. Yakub was charged with abetting murder by providing logistical support to the main perpetrator.
  • Sections Applicability: Section 109 of the IPC, dealing with abetment, was applied. Yakub’s active support in facilitating the crime led to the application of this section.
  • Outcome: The court found Yakub guilty of abetment under Section 109, emphasizing his direct contribution to the crime through logistical assistance. The case illustrates the application of abetment provisions when individuals actively aid in the commission of a criminal act.


This overview of Sections 34, 149, 109, and 120B of the IPC provides a foundation for understanding the principles of joint and constructive liability in Indian criminal law. The subsequent articles will delve deeper into each section, exploring their intricacies and legal interpretations through landmark judgments.



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