Landmark Judgment on Common Intention

Common Intention


This judgment marks a significant moment in interpreting the concept of common intention as defined in the Indian Penal Code of 1860. Here’s what makes it noteworthy:

  • It clarifies how common intention is understood within the framework of Indian law.
  • The decision is rooted in legal principles but is explained in a way that is accessible to non-specialists.
  • This case sets a precedent that could influence future legal interpretations of similar cases.

Key Facts of the Case:

  • Incident Overview: On the day in question, the accused and three associates arrived at a post office, armed with firearms. One accomplice stayed outside while the accused and two others entered the post office and demanded money from the Postmaster.
  • The Crime: When the Postmaster resisted verbally, all three inside the post office fired their weapons. Tragically, one of the shots struck and killed the Postmaster.
  • Alarm and Escape: The Postmaster’s cries alerted others, prompting all four criminals to flee the scene. During the escape, the accused fired his pistol multiple times and was eventually apprehended.
  • Initial Court Decision: The Trial Court found the accused guilty of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), combined with the concept of Common Intention under Section 34 of the IPC. They determined the Postmaster’s death occurred in furtherance of the group’s common intent.
  • High Court Review: On appeal, the High Court clarified that Section 34 IPC does not establish a new offense but defines a principle of joint liability. It stressed that if several people act together in a crime, each is equally responsible, regardless of their specific roles.
  • High Court’s Decision: The High Court upheld the conviction of the accused under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the IPC.
  • Further Appeal: The accused sought special leave to appeal from the High Court of Calcutta’s decision, which was considered by a bench comprising Justice Sumner, Justice John Edge, and Justice Atkinson.

Key Issue: Determining Guilt in a Murder Case

The central question for the court is to decide if the appellant (the person who has appealed) acted to commit murder as part of a shared plan with others.

  • Primary Concern: Was the appellant part of a common plan to commit murder?
  • Focus: Establish whether his actions align with the intent to kill as agreed upon in the plan.
  • Legal Determination: The court must carefully examine evidence and intentions to arrive at a just decision.

Observations on Section 34 by the Privy Council

  • Purpose of Section 34: Section 34 targets the actions of groups acting with a shared goal. It states that when multiple individuals engage in separate, yet related, actions as part of a shared intention. Each individual is accountable for all actions as if they were their own.
  • Clarifying Object vs. Intention: The Council noted that while the group may share a common objective, their intentions may vary. These intentions align only because they are all unlawful.
  • Historical Context of the 1870 Amendment: The amendment introduced in 1870 aimed to extend liability among group members. It established that an individual could be held responsible for actions carried out by others if those actions were driven by a shared intent.
  • Concept of Vicarious Liability: The amendment introduced the idea of vicarious or collective liability. It is where each member of the group is equally liable for the acts committed in pursuit of their common intent.
  • Definition of a “Criminal Act” under Section 34: The Council defined a “criminal act” as an act undertaken by a group with a unified criminal intent. Such acts are treated as if each were carried out by a single person.
  • Final Decision: The Privy Council confirmed the decision made by the High Court of Calcutta and dismissed the appeal, reinforcing the principles laid out in Section 34.


Understanding Key Sections of the Indian Penal Code

Section 34: Joint Responsibility
When a crime is committed by a group with a shared intent, each member is held responsible if they have acted alone.

Section 302: Consequences of Murder
Murder is met with severe penalties: either a death sentence, a life sentence, or a fine.

Section 394: Robbery with Injury
Anyone causing injury during a robbery, whether attempting or committing it, faces a possible life sentence. It is up to ten years of rigorous imprisonment, and you may also be fined.