Criminal

Vicarious liability under Section 149 Indian Penal Code [ Indian Law Encyclopedia]

TanmoySupreme Court in Joseph Vs. State of Tamil Nadu [SC 2017 December] observed 

The requirements for invoking the vicarious liability under Section 149 IPC. Section 149 IPC consists of two parts:

  • The first part of the section means that there exists common object and that the offence has been committed in prosecution of the common object. In order that the offence may fall within the first part, the offence must be connected immediately with the common object of the unlawful assembly of which the accused was member.
  • The second part of the section means that even if the offence committed is not in direct prosecution of the common object of the assembly, it may yet fall under Section149, if it can be shown that the offence was such as the members knew was likely to be committed.

What is important in each case is to find out if the offence was committed to accomplish the common object of the assembly or was the one which the members knew to be likely to be committed. Once the court finds that the ingredients of Section 149 IPC are fulfilled, every person who at the time of committing that offence was a member of the assembly has to be held guilty of that offence.

After such a finding, it would not be open to the court to see as to who actually did the offensive act nor would it be open to the court to require the prosecution to prove which of the members did which of the above two ingredients. Before recording the conviction under Section 149 IPC, the essential ingredients of Section 141 IPC must be established.

10. Scope of two parts of Section 149 IPC has been explained in Rajendra Shantaram Todankar v. State of Maharashtra and Ors. (2003) 2 SCC 257, this Court has explained Section 149 and held as under:

“14. Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code provides that 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. The two clauses of Section 149 vary in degree of certainty. The first clause contemplates the commission of an offence by any member of an unlawful assembly which can be held to have been committed in prosecution of the common object of the assembly.

The second clause embraces within its fold the commission of an act which may not necessarily be the common object of the assembly, nevertheless, the members of the assembly had knowledge of likelihood of the commission of that offence in prosecution of the common object. The common object may be commission of one offence while there may be likelihood of the commission of yet another offence, the knowledge whereof is capable of being safely attributable to the members of the unlawful assembly. In either case, every member of the assembly would be vicariously liable for the offence actually committed by any other member of the assembly.

A mere possibility of the commission of the offence would not necessarily enable the court to draw an inference that the likelihood of commission of such offence was within the knowledge of every member of the unlawful assembly. It is difficult indeed, though not impossible, to collect direct evidence of such knowledge. An inference may be drawn from circumstances such as the background of the incident, the motive, the nature of the assembly, the nature of the arms carried by the members of the assembly, their common object and the behaviour of the members soon before, at or after the actual commission of the crime.

Unless the applicability of Section 149 – either clause – is attracted and the court is convinced, on facts and in law, both, of liability capable of being fastened vicariously by reference to either clause of Section 149 IPC, merely because a criminal act was committed by a member of the assembly every other member thereof would not necessarily become liable for such criminal act. The inference as to likelihood of the commission of the given criminal act must be capable of being held to be within the knowledge of another member of the assembly who is sought to be held vicariously liable for the said criminal act…… ” [underlining added] The same principles have been reiterated in State of Punjab v. Sanjiv Kumar alias Sanju and Ors. (2007) 9 SCC 791.

11. Creation of vicarious liability under Section 149 IPC is well elucidated in Allauddin Mian and Others. Sharif Mian and Anr. v. State of Bihar (1989) 3 SCC 5, this Court held:

“8. ……..Therefore, in order to fasten vicarious responsibility on any member of an unlawful assembly the prosecution must prove that the act constituting an offence was done in prosecution of the common object of that assembly or the act done is such as the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed in prosecution of the common object of that assembly.

Under this section, therefore, every member of an unlawful assembly renders himself liable for the criminal act or acts of any other member or members of that assembly provided the same is/are done in prosecution of the common object or is/are such as every member of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed.

This section creates a specific offence and makes every member of the unlawful assembly liable for the offence or offences committed in the course of the occurrence provided the same was/were committed in prosecution of the common object or was/were such as the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed. Since this section imposes a constructive penal liability, it must be strictly construed as it seeks to punish members of an unlawful assembly for the offence or offences committed by their associate or associates in carrying out the common object of the assembly……”

[underlining added]

The same principles were reiterated in paras (26) and (27) in Daya Kishan v. State of Haryana (2010) 5 SCC 81 and also in Kuldip Yadav and Ors. v. State of Bihar (2011) 5 SCC 324.

12. Whether the members of the unlawful assembly really had the common object to cause the murder of the deceased has to be decided in the facts and circumstances of each case, nature of weapons used by such members, the manner and sequence of attack made by those members on the deceased and the circumstances under which the occurrence took place. It is an inference to be deduced from the facts and circumstances of each case (vide Lalji and Ors. v. State of U.P. (1989) 1 SCC 437; Ranbir Yadav v. State of Bihar (1995) 4 SCC 392; Rachamreddy Chenna Reddy and Ors. v. State of A.P. (1999) 3 SCC 97).