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Introduction 

From the moment we began delving into the intricacies of the legal system, the concept of conspiracy as a criminal offense has been a subject of study. Traditionally, 'conspiracy' refers to a clandestine plan to commit something illegal or treacherous, causing disruption in social order and instability in society.
The majority of legal experts believe that once a conspiracy is formed or set in motion, it heightens the likelihood of the intended offense being carried out, which is the reason behind the conspiracy.
Now, a significant question arises: should the act of conspiracy also be recognized as a tort? This query has led to considerable confusion over the past century. The primary stumbling block in acknowledging the act of conspiracy as a tort is the uncertainty surrounding the cause of action. In such instances, the cause of action cannot be clearly defined.
Therefore, in this article, we will delve extensively into the Tort of Conspiracy or the concept of Civil Conspiracy.

Conspiracy

In simple terms, conspiracy refers to a hidden plan to engage in an unlawful or harmful activity, usually intended to be executed in the near future.
Conspiracy can be categorized into two main types based on its nature:

  • Criminal Conspiracy
  • Civil Conspiracy

Criminal Conspiracy

The most well-known form of conspiracy is criminal conspiracy. Broadly speaking, criminal conspiracy is defined as "two or more individuals agreeing to commit an illegal act or offense together."
In India, historically, conspiracy was initially considered a civil wrong, but later it was incorporated into the Indian Penal Code. In the 1913 amendment to the Indian Penal Code, Sections 120A and 120B were introduced to include conspiracy as a criminal offense.
Section 120A of the IPC provides the definition of criminal conspiracy:
"When two or more individuals are involved and agree to:

  • Commit an illegal act
  • Carry out a legal act by illegal means, with the legality of the means being the main issue

They are considered to be engaged in a criminal conspiracy."
On the other hand, Section 120B of the IPC defines and establishes the penalties for conspiracy:

  • If individuals involved in the conspiracy are conspiring to commit an act that is punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment, then the punishment for the act of conspiracy would be determined based on the punishment for abetting the same act.
  • For all other acts of conspiracy not covered by the above, the punishment typically includes imprisonment for six months and/or a fine.

Now, let's discuss the essential elements for an act to be considered a criminal conspiracy:

  • The existence of an objective or goal
  • Detailed planning to achieve that objective
  • An agreement to cooperate with each other

It's important to differentiate between the degree of conspiracy involved in an act and the actual commission of the act itself.
In the case of Leo Roy Frey v. Suppdt. Distt. Jail, this distinction was clearly explained. The court observed that:
"The act of conspiring for a crime is entirely distinct from committing the offense itself because the phase of conspiracy precedes the phase of committing a crime. The act of conspiracy is completed before the commission of the crime, which is why it is treated as a separate and distinct offense."
Now, let's shift our focus to the main subject of this article, where we will delve into the concept of Civil Conspiracy or Conspiracy in the context of tort law.

Types of Conspiracy in Tort Law

Now, let's explore various categories of Conspiracy in the context of Tort Law. There are different types:

  • General Conspiracy
  • Conspiracy to Injure
  • 'Unlawful Means' Conspiracy

General Conspiracy

A general conspiracy involves the illegal collaboration of two or more individuals to carry out an action that is contrary to the law and detrimental to others. In simple terms, when people form an association with the intent to harm others, it qualifies as a general conspiracy.
For instance, if a group of individuals hisses or boycotts a particular actor during a performance, the intention or purpose of their actions becomes relevant.

Conspiracy to Injure

Also known as the 'Crofter' Conspiracy, this doctrine emerged in the case of Crofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Co Ltd v. Veitch. It was established in this case that when people form an association with the sole purpose of causing harm to someone, even if the harm would be legal if committed by a single person, it constitutes a conspiracy to injure.
In such conspiracies, the primary aim of the association is to inflict harm upon someone.
A notable precedent was set in the Moghul Steamship Company’s Case, where it was determined that if two individuals, let's say X and Y, engage in an activity to expand their business and increase their gains but inadvertently harm someone without any intention to do so, the act is not legally actionable.
Another significant legal case related to this is the Quinn vs. Leathem case, which established that an association of two or more people to harm another person with legal justification or excuse, by inducing their business customers to breach contracts with him or refuse to deal with him, is actionable.

'Unlawful Means' Conspiracy

This type of tort involves an agreement between two or more parties, with at least one of them agreeing to employ unlawful means against the claimant.

Let's discuss a critical case:

Rohtas Industries vs. Rohtas Industries Staff Union

In this case, the employees of two industrial premises went on strike. This strike was deemed illegal under Section 23 read with Section 24 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The question brought before the Supreme Court was whether the workers were liable to compensate for the losses incurred by the management during the strike.
The Court ruled that the purpose of the strike was not to cause harm or damage to industrial establishments. Although the strike could be seen as a conspiracy, it was not actionable.
This type of conspiracy involves two elements:

  • The Defendant's Intent
  • Unlawful Means

1. The Intent of the Defendant: This form of conspiracy doesn't require a predominant intention to harm the claimant. However, it necessitates that the claimant has suffered damage as a result of the act.
The damage suffered by the claimant is a crucial factor in determining the liability of the defendant or the accused.

2. Unlawful Means: Unlawful means refer to acts or conspiracies that are wrongful and actionable under Tort Law. This category also includes acts that would be considered criminal if committed by an individual.
If both of these elements are proven to exist in an act, it is classified as an 'Unlawful Means Conspiracy.'

Criminal Conspiracy vs. Civil Conspiracy

The primary distinction between Criminal Conspiracy and Civil Conspiracy lies in the nature of the act and its legal consequences. Criminal Conspiracy involves individuals intending to commit an act that is subject to punishment under the criminal laws of the jurisdiction (lex loci). In contrast, Civil Conspiracy pertains to offenses of a civil nature.

Conclusion

Due to India's historical association with British colonial rule, the legal framework in India can be traced back to the common law of England. This is also true for Tort Law in India. However, the area of Conspiracy within Tort Law in India is still in its early stages and requires further development.
One significant challenge with the tort of conspiracy is that it holds a group of people collectively liable, but not individuals. For example, if there are 5 conspirators in an act and 3 of them are not proven guilty, the other 2 would also not be convicted by the court of law.
Therefore, the tort of conspiracy in India demands further development, reforms, and legislative actions.

The document Conspiracy under Torts | Law Optional Notes for UPSC is a part of the UPSC Course Law Optional Notes for UPSC.
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