Joint liability under the Indian Penal Code is a Rule of law which has been established by Section 34, which allows the punishment of more than one person for a crime committed depending upon their involvement in the same. When a person is charged in a case with joint liability, there are 3 pre-requisites that have been met, which are, a criminal act being done by more than one person, an act done for the furtherance of a common intention and all the persons must be parties to the crime. The level of participation can differ from accused to accused, which would only depend upon how heinous the crime is and the punishment would defer accordingly. However, when the accused are put to trial, they are looked at as if they had committed the crime individually. Hence despite being called co-accused they shall also. Be tried on their individual accord, based upon their participation in the crime. For example in the widely spoken of Nirbhaya case, the 6 accused were charged and tried with individually, based on their individual participation to the act and their role in abetting the crime committed by the others. Section 34 can be charged along with Sections for crimes like rape, murder, assault, theft etc. The concept of Joint Liability has also been explained and established in the case of Barendra Kumar Ghosh V. King Emperor [AIR 1924 Cal 545].
Moving into understanding insanity as a defence. It has been defined under Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code. It is a defence which is used in the case a person is not of the mental capacity to perform the act he has been accused of doing. Which is to say that a person who is suffering from depression or some kind of a mental issue, is exempt from the fact that a crime has been committed by them. The most important aspect about this defence is that the person needs to have that wave of effect at the time of committing the crime, not before or after committing the act. The uniqueness about this defence is that in the case a person pleads insanity, there is no other defence that can be taken by that person thereafter. The proof of insanity is evidence enough to acquit the person, or even shine a light on reasonable doubt, since to hold a person guilty, a proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt is required. A case where a person has been acquitted on all grounds due to proof of insanity is the case of Shrikant Bhosle V. State of Maharashtra [(2002) 7 SCC 748].
For further details on the pre-conditions for insanity as a defence are laid down by the case of R. V. M’Naught [(1843) 8 E.R. 718]. However due to the changes over the years, along with the McNaughton Rules, a person must also look at the Right and Wrong Test, as well as the Irresistible Impulse Test. A case where the instigation of the victim caused the person to be acquitted was the case of Surya Prasad V. State of Orissa [1982 CriLJ 931].
When a set of people are held guilty under joint liability, then it is treated as if they had committed the crime individually itself. Hence when they are charged with the punishment, it is often done for each of the accused on an individual basis. When the defence of insanity is used, there is a primary principal which states that acquittal of one of the accused does not lead to the acquittal of all the ones held liable. Also, insanity has to be pleaded by the both of them separately and individually and cannot be done together, since this defence is one which is based on the individual mental intention of the individual.
In joint liability, the activities are done in furtherance of a common intention, hence there is often an element of pre-planning that is attached, or at least there is some common ground established between the individuals. Hence, whenever there is a case that requires planning, for example conspiracy under Section 120A of the Indian Penal Code of 1860, then the defence of insanity cannot be used, since even though the person may be insane at the time of committing the offence, however he may or may not have been insane during the entire planning of the conspiracy. In such cases if insanity is even pleaded, then it may diminish the liability of the person, but however it cannot lead to their acquittal.
However there are precedents that have spoken about the different possibilities that are there in such cases, since it is extremely important to deal with things on a case to case basis.
In light of the same, it becomes essential to point out that with Section 84, one also needs to read Section 85 and 86, where the insanity is said to be caused under the influence of some substance which prevents a person from acting rationally. For which it becomes necessary to discuss the case of case of Public Prosecutor V. Jafari Bin HJ Jubilee and other[  1 BLR 303 ], there were 2 individuals who were held for murder. There was common intention between the both of them that had been established, since the murder was done in furtherance of a common intention.
Let’s first discuss the case of the 1st defendant, hereinafter referred to as D1. He had earlier suffered from an accident, causing him an acute brain injury then. He was made to believe by the 2nd defendant that by the consumption of narcotic drugs like ganja and the blue pill, he would be a little less alert but still remain conscious. Here, D1 also consumed ice which is said to produce a ‘high’. After the consumption of these, the taker is in a world of his own judgment and his ability to form any intention are much reduced. Here the person was suffering from 3 things namely, ESN, Brain damage and Drug Addiction. Under these influences and condition’s, the brain cannot create an intention to kill. He may be aware of his actions but not of the result or outcome of the same. In such circumstances, the court held him to be legally insane and thus acquitted him. The statement he made before the police on the day immediately after the crime, stated that he confessed to the crime, was termed as inadmissible, since he was not in the correct from of mind to make such a statement.
Drawing attention to the 2nd defendant, since he too was under the influence of narcotics and ice which caused him to behave in a delusional manner, his sentence was reduced by the court. The reason this difference was there is because D2 did not suffer from being hit on the head the way D1 had, hence his insanity was caused by his own doing.
Thus we can now arrive at a clear distinction of the way things have been done and the way the defence of insanity can be used in a case of Joint Liability.
Author Details: Aayush Kedia (Jindal Global Law School)
The views of the author are personal only. (if any)