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Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which holds every member of an unlawful assembly guilty of an offence, can be invoked even when no charges under Section 141 of the IPC have been framed, the Supreme Court ruled.
In its answer to the question as to whether punishment under Section 149 can be given to accused persons when Section 141 has not been invoked, the Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph held that as long as the necessary ingredients of an unlawful assembly are proved, there is no categorical need to invoke Section 141. The Court said,
“It has nowhere been said that Section 141 of the IPC should be specifically invoked or else the consequences would be fatal. As long as the necessary ingredients of an unlawful assembly are set out and proved, as enunciated in Section 141 of the IPC, it would suffice. The actions of an unlawful assembly and the punishment thereafter are set out in the subsequent provisions, after Section 141 of the IPC, and as long as those ingredients are met, Section 149 of the IPC can be invoked.”
The appellants were charged for causing grave injuries to certain persons resulting in their death. They were convicted by the trial court under Sections 148, 302, 307, 325 read with Section 149 of the IPC and Section 449 of the IPC. An appeal against the conviction was dismissed by the Punjab & Haryana High Court leading to an appeal before the Supreme Court.
The primary argument advanced by the Counsel for one of the appellants was that non-inclusion of Section 141 of the IPC would be fatal to the conviction of the appellants under Section 149 of the Act. It was argued by the Appellants that unless a punishment under Section 143 of the Act for joining an unlawful assembly is given, Section 149, which holds every member of an unlawful assembly guilty of an offense committed with a common object, cannot be invoked.
The Court, however, pointed out that precedents have held that the concept of unlawful assembly under Section 149 has two elements – assembly should contain at least five people, and there should be a common object to commit an offence.
It was, therefore, observed by the Court that non-inclusion of Section 141 would not be fatal to the prosecution’s case. It said,
“Section 141 of the IPC only defines what is an unlawful assembly and in what manner the unlawful assembly conducts itself, and in what cases the common object would make the assembly unlawful is specified in the Sections thereafter, inviting the consequences of the appropriate punishment in the context of Section 149 of the IPC.”
Delving into the facts of this particular case, the Court noted that on the night of the incident, seven persons arrived at the site of the crime. All of them inflicted blows on the deceased causing twenty-four injuries to him eventually resulting in his death. In this regard and in the context of common object, the Court said,
“This is not a case where the common assembly proceeded to the site and subsequently decided to inflict the blows. It is not as if anyone incidentally joined the group, but all of them came together with a clear intent and acted upon that intent. It was not as if any of the accused ran away from the site, or ceased to have the intent to inflict blows, which resulted in the death of the deceased. The common object is, thus, writ large on its face.”
The Court thus found no merit in the case presented and dismissed the appeals preferred by the appellants.