The IPC provides for group liability which has two functions – to prevent people from committing crimes in groups, and to lower the burden of prosecution by having to prove actus reus and mens rea of all the participants of a crime.[1]Otherwise, people would be motivated to commit crimes in groups, as it would become increasingly difficult for the prosecution to prove the crime of all the perpetrators involved including the accomplice. Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code deals with unlawful assembly and lays down the criteria for the same –

  1. There must be an assembly of five or more persons.
  2. They should have a common object – the object being one of the five mentioned in this Section.

Section 149 further clarifies that all the members of the unlawful assembly who acted in the prosecution of a common object or was aware that such an act would happen because of the common object would be held guilty.As the criteria are clearly laid down, it becomes easy to determine which cases would fall under Section 149. However, not all cases can be easily categorized. Through various judgments, the apex court has laid down certain rules, which further clarify whether a certain case would involve Section 149 or not. Amongst the various issues that have come up, one of them is whether a group of people (less than five) can be convicted as members of unlawful assembly. To this, the Supreme Court had laid down in the case of Ram Bilas v State of Bihar[2], that if it is proved by the prosecution that there were five or more people involved in the crime, but only less than five could be convicted, they would still be held as part of an unlawful assembly. Another issue that came up was whether the accused can be held liable under both Section 34 and Section 149. The Supreme Court held in the 2003 case of Chittarmal, Moti v State of Rajasthan[3], that if there are five or more people who have done an act in pursuance of a common intention, then both Section 34 and 149 would be applicable, but if they do an act in pursuance of a common object but not a common intention, then Section 34 would not be applicable. There remained another issue that recently came up in the Supreme Court through the case ofSurendra Singh v State of Rajasthan[4], that is, whether the accused can be held liable under unlawful assembly in case they are facing separate trials. It is this issue which is going to be further analyzed.


A brief summary of the facts – five people caused lathi blows to the victim named Narendra Singh. One of the five people, Bhawani Singh, and the victim Narendra Singh fell unconscious, and later, Bhawani Singh died.Chargesheet was filed against two of the accused (Vijendra Singh and Bhupendra Singh) – one of whom (Bhupendra Singh) died during the trial.[5] The remaining three absconded for a number of years, because of which the trial of Vijendra Singh was separated.[6] The trial court convicted him under Section 302 read with Section 149 IPC. When the accused appealed the case to High Court, the court convicted him under Section 323 IPC instead. The original complainant filed an appeal to the apex court, and the court held that originally all five of the accused were named in the FIR even though the chargesheet was filed against only two of them.[7] The court referred to a previously decided case by the Supreme Court named Bharwad Mepa Dana& Anr v State of Bombay[8], where it was held that merely because the other members of the unlawful assembly are not convicted, does not mean that the accused can be permitted to say that there was no unlawful assembly. They can still be convicted under Section 149 IPC.

Applying this ruling to the present case, where the fatal blow was given by another accused, but all of them still formed a part of the unlawful assembly because they fulfilled the criteria given in Section 141 IPC. The apex court referred to yet another case decided by the Supreme Court, where the Court held that it is not necessary for the common object to be a “preconcert in the sense of a meeting of the members” of the unlawful assembly.[9] The common object has to be just shared by all the members of that unlawful assembly, and in the present case, all the accused shared that common object, and hence, the accused would be held liable under Section 149 IPC and Section 302 IPC as originally held by the Trial Court.

The question then arises, why would the accused face separate trials, if all of them had a common object? The accused who inflicted the fatal blow had acted in pursuance of the common object, and accordingly, the court convicted the second accused for the same crime.[10]Because as per the first part of Section 149 IPC, if an accused commits an offence “in prosecution of the common object”, then every person of that assembly would be held guilty of that offence. This still does not explain, why all the accused members would be facing separate trials, especially in this case, where the FIR was filed against all of them. Chargesheet was filed only against two of the accused, and the reasons behind the same are unknown.[11]In a 2022 case,State of Uttar Pradesh v Subhash[12], the Supreme Court held that mere non-framing of the charge against the accused would not vitiate the conviction when there is no prejudice caused to the accused. This means that even if charges have not been framed, the accused would still be held liable under Section 149 IPC, provided the accused is not prejudiced thereby. Deriving from this ruling, one can logically infer that if non-framing of charges does not vitiate the conviction under Section 149 IPC, then framing of separate charges resulting in separate trials would not vitiate conviction under Section 149 IPC either. Because ultimately the act done is either in the prosecution of the common object or done with the knowledge of the common object.

In furtherance of my argument, there is another case of the Allahabad High Court, where the judges deliberated on many provisions of the Penal Code including Section 149, and held that it is an “enlarging or enabling provision”.[13] According to this court, when five or more persons form an unlawful assembly then all of them are held guilty under Section 143 IPC, when they proceed to use force and violence but fall short of causing hurt, then they are convicted under Section 147 IPC and ultimately when they cause hurt, the accused would come under the purview of Section 149 IPC.[14] The accused would accordingly be held liable as per the nature of the hurt caused, which in the case we analyzed was death. Hence, the Supreme Court rightfully convicted the accused under Section 302 and Section 149 IPC.


Having elaborately analyzed a specific issue regarding Section 149, through previous rulings and by analogy, it becomes logical to derive the conclusion that Section does not create a specific offence as such. What it does is enlarge the scope of all such offences which might be committed individually, but makes the other vicariously liable solely because they were part of an unlawful assembly and the offence committed was in the prosecution of their common object.[15] It can be rightfully commented that the Supreme Court in the case of Surendra Singh v State of Rajasthan[16]further clarified its stance and stayed true to its previous rulings.

Author’s Name: Ujjaini Biswas (NALSAR University of Law)

[1] PSA Pillai, Criminal Law (12th edition, 2014) 281.

[2] Ram Bilas Singh v State of Bihar (1964) Cr LJ 673 (SC).

[3] Chittarmal, Moti v State of Rajasthan (2003) Latest Caselaw 12 (SC).

[4] Surendra Singh v State of Rajasthan & Anr (2023) LiveLaw (SC) 318.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid [4].

[7] Ibid [4].

[8] Bharwad Mepa Dana & Anr v State of Bombay (1960) (2) SCR 172.

[9] Mizaji & Anr v State of UP (1959) (1) (SCR) 940.

[10] Ibid [4].

[11] Ibid [4].

[12] State of Uttar Pradesh v Subhash @ Pappu (2022) LiveLaw (SC) 336.

[13] Sundar Singh & Ors v The State (1955) CriLJ 898.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid [13].

[16] Ibid [4].

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