Joint and Constructive Liability
A person who truly commits a crime is typically held legally responsible and punished as a result. The notion of criminal responsibility asserts that the person who commits an offence is accountable and can be found guilty on his or her own. However, Sections 34 and 149 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, offer an exception to the rule, imposing criminal liability on the perpetrator and his or her accomplices who participated in the commission of the crime in support of a common intention or the pursuit of a common goal. In such a situation, each of them becomes jointly liable. In the well-known case of Ramesh Singh alias Photti v. State of Andhra Pradesh, the Supreme Court of India agreed (2004).
Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 lays down the provision for joint liability in cases where different persons share a common intention. Section 34 reads as, “acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention”. In order to understand the term ‘act’ in this context, a look into its preceding section needs to be made. Section 33 defines the term ‘act’ and ‘omission’.
Sections 33 and 34 make it clear that the term "criminal act" refers to more than a single act, encompassing a series of acts committed in quick succession and interconnected in such a way that they cannot be separated from one another, with diverse motivations attributed to subsequent crimes. When seen in this perspective, it is clear that the sections are intended to address circumstances in which it is hard to distinguish between the unlawful behaviour of individual members of a group acting in concert to achieve a shared aim. In the case of Shri Ganesh v. State of Mysore (1958), the Supreme Court of India ruled that Section 34 codifies the common-sense principle that if two or more people do anything together, it is the same as if they did it separately. Therefore, the three main elements that constitute Section 34 are as follows:
A criminal act must be done by several persons.
The unlawful conduct must serve to enhance everyone’s shared intention.
All people must take part in achieving the shared intention.
These three elements guide a court in assessing whether or not the person accused in front of it is jointly accountable with others. While the first two aspects pertaining to the activities that are attributable to the accused and must be shown as such, the third element refers to the consequences of such actions. The Apex Court’s view in the case of Shyamal Ghosh v. State of West Bengal (2012) stated that once the criminal conduct and common purpose have been established, the rule of constructive culpability enshrined in Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code kicks in. It must be proven that a person has done something with others before he may be held accountable to others. Every member of the group charged with Section 34 assistance is required to take part in the criminal conduct.
The notion of shared liability is defined in Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. This section only defines the concept of shared liability without imposing any sanctions. This section must be read in connection with other parts of the Code, such as Section 120A, which defines criminal conspiracy, Section 120 B, which specifies criminal conspiracy penalties, and Section 149, which deals with illegal assembly. Because Section 34 is useless on its own, it must be used in conjunction with other statutes to hold a person jointly liable for an offence. In criminal prosecution, the concept of shared criminal culpability appears to be more of a magical weapon. However, the idea not only adds to conceptual uncertainty, but it also contradicts key fundamental criminal law notions.