In India, conspiracy was partially only considered to be a civil mistake, but subsequently brought under Indian Criminal Law. Before the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1913 was passed, that introduced Sections 120A and 120B to the IPC, conspiracy was never an offense under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Now an important issue facing us is can the act of conspiracy also be treated as wrongful? During the last century, this issue has created a whole lot of uncertainty. Before understanding the act of conspiracy as a tort, the primary stumbling block is the mystery about the cause of action. In such situations, it is difficult to identify the cause of action or it is ambiguous.
The act of conspiracy means ‘a secret plan to do something in the coming days that is unlawful or dangerous’.
Section 120A of the IPC state that:
“Definition of criminal conspiracy- When two or more persons agree to do, or cause to be done
- an illegal act, or
- an act which is not illegal by illegal means, such an agreement is designated a criminal conspiracy .
Given that no arrangement other than an agreement to commit an offense amounts to a criminal conspiracy unless in pursuance of that agreement, any act other than the agreement is performed by one or more parties to that agreement.
Classification of conspiracy under tort
Criminal conspiracy is the most common form of conspiracy. usually, the Criminal Conspiracy Act is defined as ‘Two or more than two individuals agreeing to commit an illegal act or offense together.
understand what is important for an act to be treated as a criminal conspiracy.
- The basics of a criminal conspiracy are below:
- An end to be accomplished.
- Concrete arrangement for the object to be done.
- Agreement with each other to collaborate.
In the case of Leo Roy Frey v. Suppdt. Distt. Jail this distinction was clearly explained and defined, wherein court observed that-
‘The act of conspiring for a crime is totally different than committing the offense itself because the phase of conspiracy comes before the phase of committing a crime. The commission of Conspiracy is completed before the Crime is commissioned. That’s why it should be treated differently as a distinct crime .
Tort of Conspiracy may be said to be any incidence of conspiracy to commit an unlawful act of a civil nature.
Presume you have three entities, X, Y, and Z. but, Y and Z are now undergoing an arrangement that explicitly states that they consent on the plan to do a dishonest act against X. In such a scenario, this can be considered to be a kind of tort of conspiracy or civil conspiracy.
Ingredients of conspiracy
The following are the essential elements of the tort of conspiracy:
The first concept of the misconduct of conspiracy is to correct the concept of harm or injure another. There must be a collective motive to injure the other party in order for a tort to become a conspiracy. If the combination’s main intention is not to hurt another, but to support or protect the trade of those who unite it then no wrong is done and no action can lie, even if damage to another ensues. The degree of damage intent can vary, but it is of utmost importance to its involvement.
The intent or object of the combination must be to cause the claimant harm. The purpose of this test is to understand what was there when they behaved as they did in the minds of the combiners. In order for the claimant to suffer injury, the converters should have acted.
This implies that at least two or more persons must be involved in the planning process and that concerted efforts must take place between them. There may be occasions where two or more than two persons, who do this separately, act with the same intention. So, a conspiracy does not amount to such an act. In order for an act to be viewed as a conspiracy, it is important that individuals acting with the same intention must have mutually decided to the act.
In the case of Toppan Das v. State of Orissa. There must be voluntary agreement and intent to participate in furthering a common purpose so as to make a person liable under conspiracy. But mere knowledge or approval, in the absence of an actual agreement does not constitute conspiracy. Also, two separate entities working separately would not give rise to the tort of conspiracy, even if they have the same intention.
It is absolutely essential that they must have combined together, and be working together towards a common intention. Merely having same intention, but without any combination is not enough to result into the tort of conspiracy .
Another point of the Conspiracy under tort is that the defendants must commit some overt act that causes injury to some other individual. There is no need for the whole conspiracy to be carried out in the form of action. The crime may account for a single step towards the commission of the conspiracy. In order for the overt act to be deemed necessary, one of the contributors must have acted in order to serve the purpose behind the conspiracy.
Presume Four individuals plan to commit an unlawful act. A mere agreement, however does not trigger the act to be challenged. Suppose the criminal act that they settled upon was fraud. So, because one single action is not taken to commit a robbery, they should not be held accountable.
Types of conspiracy under tort: –
There are two types of civil conspiracy:
- Conspiracy to Injure- “Crofter” Conspiracy.
- “Unlawful means” Conspiracy.
CONSPIRACY TO INJURE- “CROFTER” CONSPIRACY:
This type of conspiracy is also known as the ‘Crofter’ conspiracy, as in the case of Crofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Co Ltd v Veitch, this doctrine has arisen. In this case, it was decided that when an organization is formed by individuals for the sole purpose of inflicting harm on another, it would otherwise be lawful even if one individual committed harm with the intention of causing harm. The sole aim of the mixture or partnership in such a form of conspiracy is to kill someone.
The most incredible law was introduced in the case of the Moghul Steamship Company,
If two individuals, suppose A & B do some act to broaden their business and increase their income in pursuit of their business, but also end up harming someone. In such cases, if there was no intention of injuring the injured person, then the conduct in the eyes of the law is not actionable.
The Quinn vs Leathem case is another major legal case surrounding this.
This case established that by causing his business clients to break contracts with him or not to deal with him an association of two or more persons to harm another person with legal reason or excuse is actionable.
“UNLAWFUL MEANS” CONSPIRACY:
An arrangement between two or more than two parties is involved in this form of tort. At least one of them agrees to use illegitimate means against the complainant, although
Unlawful means: – the actions or the conspiracy of such acts which under the Tort Law would be unlawful and actionable. In this classification, even those actions are considered which if committed by a single individual, would have been of a criminal nature.
Difference between civil and criminal conspiracy
The key difference between the Criminal Conspiracy and the Civil Conspiracy is that it is criminal conspiracy when persons intending to commit an offense and the act is punishable by the Criminal Law of lex loci, while when the wrongs committed are of a civil nature is Civil Conspiracy.
Criminal conspiracy is codified by a statute and thus there are limitations on which actions may be treated as conspiracy and not conspiracy. There are only a few unique actions, such as those committing a substantive criminal offence, defrauding or corrupting public morals or outraging public decency, that are responsible for criminal conspiracy. But since civil conspiracy is not codified, there are no other limitations on it. Any act that fulfils the essentials of conspiracy misconduct can be done.
- Mogul Steamship Co. v. McGregor Gow and Co:
The defendants, who were firms of ship owners were trading between China and Europe, with a view to obtaining for themselves a monopoly of the homeward tea trade, and thereby keeping up the rate of freight. They formed an association, and offered the merchants and shippers in China who shipped their tea exclusively in vessels belonging to the members of the association, a rebate of five percent.
The plaintiffs, who were rival ship owners, were excluded by the defendants from all the benefits of the association, and in consequence of such exclusion, they sustained damage. The plaintiffs filed a suit against the defendants, alleging conspiracy to injure. It was held that the acts of the defendants were done with the lawful object of protecting and extending their trade and increasing their profits, and since they had not employed any unlawful means, they were held not liable and the plaintiffs had no cause of action .
- Crofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Co. Ltd. v. Veitch:
In this case, the trade union, that is the defendant, directed the dockers, who were also the members of the union to refuse to handle the plaintiff‟s goods, without any breach of contract. The object of this act was to reduce the competition in the yarn trade market, thereby increasing profit and thus increasing the wages of the members of the union working in the mills. The predominant purpose of the defendants‟ act was to improve the economic prospects of its members in the mills. Their actions were not motivated by any intention to injure the plaintiff, nor were there any unlawful means involved, and thus they were held not liable .
- Rohtas Industries Ltd. v. Rohtas Industries Staff Union:
The workmen of two industrial establishments went on strike. The strike was illegal under Section 23 read with Section 24 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, as conciliation proceedings were pending. The question before the Supreme Court was whether the union was liable to pay compensation to the management for the loss incurred by it. Since the strike was illegal, it was also unlawful, but it was held that the union was not liable because their object was not to cause injury to the management. Their only purpose was to benefit themselves and thus they were held not liable .
- Pepsi Foods Ltd. and Others v. Bharat Coca-Cola Holdings Pvt. Ltd.:
The plaintiffs were engaged in manufacturing, marketing and sale of soft drinks and beverages, under the trade mark „Pepsi‟ all over the world, including India. Over the past 6 months the plaintiffs found that the defendants had been resorting not only to unethical business practices, but the defendants‟ actions in most cases constituted tortious interference in the business of the plaintiffs. It was further mentioned that the defendants had entered into conspiracy to undertake concerted action against the plaintiffs to damage their business interests in an illegal manner. It was alleged that the defendants are guilty of the tort of conspiracy. On consideration of the totality of the facts and circumstances, the plaintiffs were not able to make out strong prima
facie case for the grant of injunction at that stage. The balance of convenience was also not in favour of the plaintiffs. No irreparable injury was likely to be caused to the plaintiffs. Also, since the third essential of conspiracy, i.e., overt act that causes damage to the claimant, was not fulfilled, the case was not actionable .
A conspiracy is characterized as an unlawful combination of two or more individuals in order to do what is contrary to the law, or to do what is harmful to another person, or to carry out an object that is not unlawful in itself but by illegal means. Some actions that are necessary for a conspiracy to become complete are not unlawful in themselves or do not hold the individual liable, but are held liable under the crime of tort under the act committed for the promotion of the conspiracy.
Conspiracy, simply because there was a mixture of individuals who were opposed to the law with a shared purpose. Thus, this becomes the target of the conspiracy tort, to make it pay for someone who has done something bad to another. The only issue with the misconduct of conspiracy, in my opinion, is that it does not make a person accountable. If there are three collaborators in the conspiracy case, even if the case is not against two of them then the third party cannot be tried in the conspiracy case either. While there was wrong done against him, this might leave the aggrieved party without any compensation.