The Supreme Court recently held that the offence of criminal conspiracy cannot be proved by mere confessional statements in the absence of corroborative evidence (Praveen @ Sonu v. State of Haryana).
A Bench of Justices R Subhash Reddy and Hrishikesh Roy held,
“A few bits here and a few bits there on which prosecution relies, cannot be held to be adequate for connecting the accused with the commission of crime of criminal conspiracy. Even the alleged confessional statements of the co-accused, in absence of other acceptable corroborative evidence, is not safe to convict the accused.”
It was alleged that the appellant along with three co-accused, who have not preferred appeal, attempted to rescue four accused persons who were being taken by the police via train to Bhiwani, to be presented before the Chief Judicial Magistrate. The incident resulted in death of the Head Constable by firearm injuries.
The trial court prosecuted the four accused persons including the appellant under Sections 224 (illegal obstruction to lawful apprehension), 225, 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to public servant), 353 (assaulting a public servant), 392 (robbery), 307 (attempt to murder), 302 (murder), 120-B (conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 25/54/59 of the Arms Act.
The Punjab & Haryana High Court upheld the conviction and gave a common order confirming life sentence of the accused persons. Only Praveen @ Sonu had preferred an appeal to the top court.
Advocate Rishi Malhotra, appearing for the appellant, argued that there is no concrete proof to connect the appellant to the crime. He claimed that the trial court as well as the High Court believed the prosecution story in absence of any supporting evidence and convicted him. Except for the alleged confessional statements of the co–accused, there was no other acceptable evidence to connect the appellant to the crime, he argued.
He further argued that neither were any independent witnesses examined nor was a test identification parade conducted. He also emphasised that only one of the four who boarded the train had a pistol.
Additional Advocate-General Bansuri Swaraj, appearing for the State, claimed that there was enough evidence to believe that the four had conspired together to rescue the other four.
The Court noted that 23 witnesses, including eyewitnesses and police officials, were examined by the prosecution and none of them mentioned the appellant. It was held that it was necessary to show a meeting of the minds to establish the offence of conspiracy. In the case at hand, the High Court merely looked at the depositions and confirmed trial court’s verdict, the Bench found. There was no evidence to corroborate the statements and the prosecution’s story to determine the appellant’s guilt.
“It is fairly well settled, to prove the charge of conspiracy, within the ambit of Section 120-B, it is necessary to establish that there was an agreement between the parties for doing an unlawful act. At the same time, it is to be noted that it is difficult to establish conspiracy by direct evidence at all, but at the same time, in absence of any evidence to show meeting of minds between the conspirators for the intended object of committing an illegal act, it is not safe to hold a person guilty for offences under Section 120-B of IPC,” the judgment stated.
Hence, the Bench overturned the High Court’s judgment and acquitted the appellant for want of evidence.
Read judgment here: