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Joint Liability Under Indian Penal Code

Author: Isha Mittal Student, University Of Petroleum and Energy Studies Co – Author: Ramya Mihir Student, University Of Petroleum and Energy Studies Editor: Shweta Pandey Deputy Editor-in-Chief, The Legal Vidya


Any criminal act is done by a person or a group of people with an intention occupies a guilty mind or mens rea. The term “intension” is not specifically specified in the Indian Penal Code, but section 34 deals with common intension. The doctrine of joint liability[1] is mentioned in Section 34 of IPC, which states that a criminal act should be done by several persons (more than one person) with a common intention of all. Such persons will be liable for the act in the same manner as if it was done by them alone. Joint Liability is present in both civil and criminal law[2].

Thus, to make a person liable under Sec 34, the act should be criminal, should be performed by more than one person with the common intension of all and there must be the participation of all the persons in furtherance of a common intension. For sec 34, there should be a pre-arranged plan to commit that criminal act.

Therefore, there are several essential ingredients under Section 34 of IPC, to make the liability joint and thereby constitute section 34.

  1. The act done should be criminal in nature

  2. The criminal act must be performed by more than one person

  3. The criminal act must be in furtherance of a common intension of all

  4. There must be participation of all the people in furtherance of common intension

To make a person liable under section 34, all these essentials must be fulfilled.


  1. There are two people A and B and both of them decide to do robbery in a house. Before the commencement of the act, it is decided by both the people that they won’t be killing or hurting any person but will take only stuff like money, jewellery, etc. On reaching the house, A tells B to guard the house till then he will steal the things. While A was doing the task, the watchman of the house came running towards him, and A, therefore, panicked and stabbed the watchman with the knife due to which he died. After killing him, A ran towards B with the knife. Although, in this case, B had no intention of killing the watchman, he will also be liable for the murder of the watchman and robbery along with A.

  2. A person X misbehaves with Y on 30th September. Y calls his friends- A, B, and C on 1st October to a place to take revenge from X and they agree to Y. Thereby, finding the opportunity to hit X, all his friends badly hit him. Hence, since there was a common intention and all the four people acted in furtherance of a common intention, all the four people are liable.

Joint liability also applies to criminal conspiracy[3], where if a person is involved in such a conspiracy, but does not perform any act, will also be held liable for criminal conspiracy under section 120, IPC.

Case Laws

  1. Barender Kumar Ghosh vs King Emperor (1925)[4]

This case is popularly called the Post Master Case.

In this case, Barender Kumar along with 3 other people went to Shankaritola post office in the afternoon with firearms. The accused stood outside the post office while the other 3 went inside the post office through the back door. They asked the postmaster Amrita Lal Roy to give money which he was counting. The postmaster refused to give the money, so the other 3 fire from the pistol due to which the postmaster died immediately and the 3 fled from the place. When the accused saw everyone running, he also ran firing a pistol in the air. He was chased and caught by the assistant of the post office. He set forward his argument that he didn’t have the intention to murder the postmaster nor was there any plan to kill the postmaster. Although he didn’t murder the postmaster, he participated with them, and so, he was made liable by the Privy Council under sec 302 (murder of postmaster), and sec 394 (causing hurt in doing robbery) read with sec 34 (common intension of all). Calcutta H.C said that since he participated in the crime, with no intention to kill, he will be made liable.

  1. Mehboob Shah vs Emperor (1945)[5]

This case is also called Indus Valley Case In this case, Allah Dad along with other people left the village by boat for cutting reeds growing on the banks of the river Indus during sunrise. Alongside, they saw the plaintiff (father of Wali Shah) who warned them against the collection of the reeds from the land that belonged to them, ignoring which they already collected. So, while they were returning, the nephew of the plaintiff (Ghulam Quasim) stopped them and pulled their boat to return the reeds. Allah Dad picked up the “lathi” from the boat and strike Quasim. He shouted for help, and the plaintiff came, while Allah Dad was trying to escape, but Wali Shah and the plaintiff came in front of the boat and Wali Shah fired at Allah Dad, who died immediately. The plaintiff fired at the other people causing several injuries.

Thus, the issues that were raised were:

  1. Whether the plaintiff is rightly convicted for murder under sec 34 IPC?

  2. Whether a common intention to commit the crime which was committed by the plaintiff and Wali Shah came into being when Ghulam shouted to his rescue?

Since, Ghulam had no common intention of killing any member, nor did the plaintiff and Wali Shah has any common intention, they were not made liable for murder. Also, in this case, it was held that common intention means a pre-arranged plan and there should be a criminal action under the pre-arranged plan. Thus, it was important to have a prior concert and common intention for sec 34. Thus, in these cases, sec 34 that talks about the joint liability were discussed making it important to have a pre-arranged plan with a prior concert of all the members following the criminal act that is being conducted.

  1. Girija Shankar vs State of UP, 2004

In this case, the Supreme court held that section 34 does not refer to the common intension of all and nor does it say intension common to all. There were three people- Arun Singh, H.P Tiwari, and a deceased, who was coming from a fair at Bhuvneshwar and were coming back to the village. On the way to the village, it was almost dark, and they felt to take some “Beedi”, so went back to purchase it. While returning, they decided not to enter the village as it was quite dark and was also raining. So, they decided to take a rest at the house of Raj Bahadur Singh, who knew them. In the mean, while the plaintiff saw them and thought that they are criminals. The three said that they are innocent and decided to stay at Raj Bahadur Singh’s house as it was raining. They moved further, and soon Devi Shankar, fired 2 shots out of which hit the deceased and the other hit H.P Tiwari. People gathered and started shouting at each other. Iqbal Shankar, Jungli, and Girija Shankar assaulted Arun Singh and Raj Bahadur Singh, whereas Iqbal Shankar removed the gold ring and the watch of the deceased. And Devi Shankar snatched the gun of H.P Tiwari and deposited it to the police station the next day. They were made liable under section 34 by the court, as the act was committed jointly in furtherance of the common intention of all. The court thereby also held that this section is only a rule of evidence and does not create a substantive offense. Also, this section has an element of participation in action.

  1. Pandurang v. State of Hyderabad[6]

In this case, the Supreme court put more emphasis on the point that prior concert need not be something that is always before the incident but instead could be developed at the moment of the incident. There were 5 people including the plaintiff in this case and they were prosecuted for the murder of Ramchander Shelke who went to his field with his wife’s sister Rasika Bai and servant Subhanna Rao. Rasika picked up chilies in the fields when she heard shouts from near the river bank and so ran with Subhanna and there they saw that the 5 accused were killing Ramchander Shelke with axes and sticks. She was also threatened when she shouted not to beat him. Ram died on the spot.

All 5 accused were tried for murder. 3 were sentenced to death and 2 were given life imprisonment under section 302[7]. The 3 people who were sentenced to murder by High Court further appealed in Supreme Court. After investigating and examining the medical reports and evidence of Rasika and Subhanna, the court concluded that the conviction of Pandurang for the offense of murder of the deceased under section 302 read with section 34 of IPC could not be maintained and thereby convicted him under section 326[8] of IPC and sentenced him 10 years of rigorous imprisonment by setting aside his conviction for murder under section 302 by Hyderabad High Court.

  1. Rangaswami v. State of Tamil Nadu[9]

In this case, one Jayaram was murdered at Big Bazaar Street at around 11:45 pm. Thus, the session court, in this case, convicted accused 1 under section 302 and sentenced him to death, accused 2 and 3 were charged under section 307[10] read with section 34, with rigorous imprisonment of 8 years. The high court altered the decision and sentenced accused 2 and 3 with imprisonment for life under section 302 read with section 34 and the death sentence of accused 1 was modified for imprisonment for life. But later this case went to Supreme Court and it was observed that accused 3 was in a friendly relation with accused 1 and 2 and also didn’t shared any common intension with them. It was just a coincidence that they appeared at the spot but he didn’t participate in the offense. It was found that accused 1 and 2 established an enmity before the act because the deceased was accused of murdering accused 1’s brother and was on a bail. But then also, the Supreme Court held that his mere presence was established, although he didn’t have any common intension and was also unfamiliar with the plan, but was convicted with all the charges.

Later, confusion arose between the similar and the common intension, which was resolved in the case- Dukhmochan Pandey vs State of Bihar[11]

In this case, the plaintiff had sent around 20 laborers to his field for transplanting paddy. On the mid-day, the accused party came as a mob with around 200 people armed with weapons. They asked the laborers to stop but the complainant objected, so the accused ordered the mob to kill the laborers. The mob started assaulting the laborers, causing the death of two laborers. The mob flew away as soon as the police arrived. It was found that the death of the laborers was due to the shock and haemorrhage caused by the injuries that were inflicted on them by sharp weapons. Thus, common intension could be made at the spur of the moment or can be pre-planned.

In this case, Supreme Court held that the common intension that is developed at the spur of the moment is different from the similar intension actuated by several people at the same time and the decision that was made, must be born in the mind which would be relevant in deciding whether Section 54[12] of IPC can be applied to all those who might have committed the crime. Thus, said that the distinction between the common intension and similar intension is very fine and a real one and if overlooked it can lead to a miscarriage of justice.

Common Intention: All the people involved in the act are held liable.

Similar Intention: If for an act, some people have a similar intention, they will be made liable for individual acts.

Until and unless the common intention is proved, each person involved in the act will be held liable individually for his act.

Relation between Section 34, 120, 120A, 120B, and 149

  1. Section 34 and Section 149:

Section 34 and section 149 are sometimes mistaken to be the same as each other wherein they are not the same, though both of them lay rule to the liability of one’s attempted crime. Chapter eight of the Indian Penal Code starts from section 141 to 160 which states offenses against public harmony also known as group offenses.

Section 34 offers a thought of the joint danger that is accessible in both normal and criminal law. It keeps an eye on a circumstance where an offense incorporates a specific criminal point or understanding and is done by various individuals. All of the people who get the show along with such game plan or reason will be competent likewise like that point or understanding was refined by just him.

  1. Bhudeo Mandal v. the State of Bihar[13]

This case was regarding an irrigation dispute, in which the sessions judge had Bhudeo Mandal convicted under section 304 of IPC and sentenced him with 3 years of rigorous imprisonment. but whereas later it was found that there was no common objective. Even the prosecution case stated that the occurrence took place as a result of an irrigation dispute, as the people were acting on the belief that they were having a right to irrigate on that land but them having lathis with them doesn’t make them part of any unlawful activity. The Apex Court passed the rule that the proof must be established not only the common objective but also should be able to show that the common objective of the doer was illegitimate before convicting any person with the help of section 149.

  1. Ram Dhani v. State[14]

There was a land dispute and the opposite party depended on the charged party’s yield cutting. The last was in number more than five and gathered to abstain from cutting. The council decided that people acting in the property’s self-preservation couldn’t be individuals from an unlawful gathering. Thus, it couldn’t be said that they framed a gathering that took place against the rules.

  1. Section 34 and Section 120, 120 A ,120 B:

According to section 120 of IPC if more than two persons to cause or commit a crime / an illegal act without having any other agreement other than committing that illegal act shall be equally held to criminal conspiracy.

Section 120A of the Indian Penal Code is the unlawful agreement and generally, the offense is done when the unlawful course of action is illustrated. It isn’t significant that there should be some plain exhibition in support of the agreement made and it isn’t at all fundamental that the article for which the conspiracy was made should be refined.

Section 120B of Indian Penal Code suggests discipline for the offense of criminal conspiracy “Whoever is associated with a criminal stunt to complete an offense blameable with death, confinement always or exhaustive confinement for a term of two years or upwards, will, where no express plan is made in this Code for the control of such a plan, be repelled likewise like he had abetted such offense.


Thus, fixing the doctrine of joint liability under section 34 of IPC. This section also defines joint liability but does not provide the punishment for the same and is also read with several other sections like section 120A- Criminal Conspiracy, section 120B- Punishment of Criminal Conspiracy, and section 149- Unlawful Assembly.

Thus, to make a person liable under section 34, certain essentials must be satisfied and if any of those essentials do not go with the case, they will be held individually liable depending upon the acts done by them. Thus, in these cases, section 34 that talks about the joint liability were discussed making it important to have a pre-arranged plan with a prior concert of all the members in accordance to the criminal act that is being conducted.

[1] Section 34, Indian Penal Code, 1860

[3] Section 120, Indian Penal Code, 1860

[4] AIR 1925 PC 1

[5] (1945) 47 Com LR 941

[6] AIR 1954 SC 706

[7] Punishment for murder

[8] Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means

[9] AIR 1989 SC 1137 ; 1989 Supp (1) SCC 686

[10] Attempt to murder

[11] AIR 1998 SC 40

[12] Commutation of sentence of death

[13] 1981 AIR 1219, 1981 SCR (3) 291

[14] 1997 CriLJ 2286

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