This article is written by Soyab Khan of 9th Semester of BALLB, an intern under Legal Vidhiya
This article delves into the intricate legal and ethical aspects surrounding the concepts of “attempt” and “abetment” within the realm of criminal law. Attempt and abetment are fundamental doctrines that play a pivotal role in determining culpability and liability in criminal cases, and their interpretation varies significantly across jurisdictions.
The article begins by elucidating the essential elements and definitions of attempt and abetment, shedding light on the crucial distinctions between these two doctrines. It explores the historical development of these concepts, tracing their evolution through common law and statutory reforms. This historical perspective underscores the ongoing tension between the need to prevent crime and the importance of protecting individuals from overzealous prosecution.
The article also scrutinizes the challenges and controversies arising from the application of these doctrines in contemporary legal systems. It discusses real-world cases and examples where attempt and abetment have played pivotal roles in the determination of guilt or innocence. Moreover, it addresses the disparities in the application of these doctrines across different jurisdictions, leading to inconsistent outcomes and perceptions of justice.
In conclusion, this article highlights the indispensable role of attempt and abetment in criminal law and underscores the need for a balanced approach that considers both legal and ethical dimensions. It calls for a continued dialogue among legal scholars, practitioners, and policymakers to refine these doctrines, ensuring that they are applied justly and consistently while preserving individual rights and liberties in the pursuit of justice.
Key Words: Attempt, Abetment, Criminal law, Mens rea, Culpability
Abetment is the act of encouraging, motivating, or assisting someone to commit any illegal activity that is subject to legal repercussions. The Indian Penal Code, 1860, Chapter V is the subject of this article. e Aid and comfort. When it comes to imposing any kind of punishment and holding anyone accountable for any kind of offenses, criminal law is by itself very clear.
The first offense in Indian Penal Code, 1860, Chapter V, states that the mastermind behind the commission of the offense should not be freed on the mere pretext that the act has not been done by the person behind the offense committed or is still to be committed. The idea of aiding and abetting has expanded the boundaries of criminal law to encompass these criminal intentions and punish them in accordance with the rules outlined in Chapter V of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
There are four stages of crime, which are listed as follows:
- Human beings are required for the commission of any crime or for the instigation of another person to commit one. Human beings are also responsible for any criminal act they commit themselves or cause another person to commit.
- Any criminal act committed by a human being requires knowledge and intent. The purchase of a knife for domestic use is not illegal unless there is some sort of criminal intent, in which case it is unlawful. If the act is performed with guilt, it cannot be considered a crime in and of itself.
- It is only necessary to carry out an intention after it has been formed, then to act or the deed committed with the intent of harming other people.
- The final stage is the offense itself, which is the outcome of any criminal intent and illegal act. For instance, murder, rape, robbery, etc.
Therefore, assistance may occur in the middle of the aforementioned four stages. e at the very beginning of planning, when the intention is developed by one person but the act is carried out by another as a result of instigation for the commission of an offense. Abetment is a serious offense where one is only responsible for encouraging, conspiring with, and helping another person commit the crime. The actual act of committing the crime is not taken into account.
- Attempt – A Focused Act Towards a Crime
Attempt, in the context of criminal law, signifies a deliberate and purposeful act aimed at the commission of a specific criminal offense. It serves as a clear indicator of an individual’s intent to engage in unlawful conduct and is characterized by a substantial step taken towards achieving the intended criminal act. Notably, the completion of the actual crime is not a prerequisite for establishing an attempt; what matters most is the defendant’s intent and the level of progress they’ve made towards the unlawful objective.
To better understand the essential elements of an attempt, let’s break them down:
- Intent: At the core of an attempt lies the intent to commit the crime. This means the individual must possess a conscious desire to bring about the unlawful act. It is this conscious intention that sets an attempt apart from mere thoughts or fleeting ideas.
- Substantial Step: To constitute an attempt, there must be a significant and substantial step taken towards the commission of the intended crime. This step serves as tangible evidence of the defendant’s commitment to their unlawful objective. A mere intention or vague planning is insufficient to establish an attempt.
- Criminal Act: The act performed by the defendant should be directly linked to the intended crime. In other words, it should represent a concrete step toward carrying out the criminal act itself. Mere preparation or planning, without a substantial step, may not be considered an attempt.
For instance, consider a scenario where an individual purchases a firearm with the clear intention of committing a robbery but is apprehended by law enforcement before the actual robbery takes place. In this case, the individual may be charged with attempted robbery because their actions clearly demonstrate both intent and a substantial step towards committing the crime.
- Abetment – Assisting or Encouraging Criminal Conduct
Abetment, on the other hand, represents a distinct legal concept within criminal law. It involves actively aiding, encouraging, or instigating another person to commit a criminal offense. While the abettor does not necessarily carry out the unlawful act themselves, their actions contribute significantly to its commission. Abetment can manifest in various forms, including providing assistance, guidance, or even moral support to the principal offender.
To fully grasp the essence of abetment, it’s important to consider its fundamental elements:
1. Intent: Just like in the case of attempt, abetment requires the abettor to have the intent to facilitate or encourage the commission of the crime. This intent is essential in demonstrating their active involvement in criminal conduct.
2. Assistance or Encouragement: Abetment hinges on the abettor providing some form of assistance, encouragement, or inducement that directly contributes to the commission of the crime. Their actions should actively further the unlawful act.
3. Principal Offender: In abetment cases, there must be a principal offender who actually commits the crime, with the abettor playing a secondary role in facilitating or encouraging the unlawful act. The abettor aids and abets the principal offender’s actions.
For example, consider a situation where an individual encourages another person to steal a valuable item and provides detailed information on how to bypass security systems. In this scenario, the individual may be charged with abetment to theft. While they didn’t directly steal the item, their active contributions facilitated the theft.
- Distinctions and Implications
These two legal concepts, attempt and abetment, though interconnected within the broader scope of criminal law, exhibit several crucial distinctions:
1. Direct vs. Indirect Involvement: Attempt involves an individual’s direct act towards committing a crime, whereas abetment centers on indirect support or encouragement provided to another individual engaged in criminal activity.
2. Individual vs. Co-conspirators: Attempt is typically a solitary endeavor, where an individual takes actions independently to commit a crime. In contrast, abetment inherently involves at least two parties: the principal offender who carries out the criminal act and the abettor who actively assists or encourages them.
3. Penalties: The legal consequences for attempt and abetment can vary significantly depending on the jurisdiction and the specific crime involved. In some cases, attempted crimes may result in lighter sentences compared to completed crimes, while abetment can lead to severe penalties, particularly if the principal offender commits a heinous crime.
4. Intent: Both attempt and abetment require the presence of intent. Whether it’s the intent to commit a crime (in the case of attempt) or the intent to facilitate and encourage another’s criminal actions (in the case of abetment), a conscious desire to engage in unlawful conduct is a common thread.
- Difference between Attempt And Abetment:
|The persons involved are called as abettor and principal offender.||The persons involved are called as attempter.|
|Abetment is defined in Section 107 of Indian Penal Code.||Attempt is not defined in the Indian Penal Code.|
|The principal offender is not the abettor.||The attempter is the main accused.|
|The abetter is not entitled to get the same punishment as the principal offender.||The attempter is entitled to get the punishment.|
|Abetment requires the principal offender to commit the offence in pursuance of abetment by abettor.||Attempt requires the attempt or to commit the offense by itself or in pursuance of abetment.|
- Case Analysis:
- SheoDail Mal 1894:
In this case, it was decided that instigation could come directly or via letter. When A sends a letter to B encouraging B to murder C, the crime of abetment by instigation is complete once B receives the letter’s contents.
- Mohit and Queen.
A woman got ready to become “Sati” in front of the accused people. They stood by her stepsons as they sobbed, “Ram Ram,” as they followed her to the funeral pyre. One of the defendants also acknowledged ordering the women to utter the phrase “Ram Ram.”. It was believed that everyone who followed her to the burning pyre and watched as she sobbed “Ram Ram” was complicit in her crimes because they actively assisted her.
- Pandala Venkatasami 1881:
It was determined that a person would be guilty of aiding forgery if he prepared a copy of an intentionally false document in collaboration with others, purchased stamp paper to write the document, and asked for factual information to be inserted into the document. These actions were considered to be those taken to facilitate the commission of the crime.
- Sanju vs. State of Madhya Pradesh (2002) 5 SCC 371:
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India defined “abet” as “to countenance, to encourage, to encourage, or to set another to commit,” “to assist, to assist or to give assistance, to command, to procure, or to counsel,” “to procure,” or “to procure.”.
The definition of “abet” as it is currently used makes it clear that abetment only happens when at least two people are involved, which further points us in the direction of the act’s planning and execution.
- Madan Mohan Singh vs. State of Gujarat (2010) 8 SCC 628:
The deceased worked as a driver for the Microwave Project Department in the State of Gujarat. His doctor had advised him against performing any stressful tasks after he had heart bypass surgery, just before this incident occurred. The accused was the deceased’s superior officer. The accused became furious and threatened to suspend the deceased after he disobeyed his orders, reprimanding him severely for not listening to him. The accused also questioned the deceased about how he managed to maintain his will to live despite being so insulted. The driver ended his life.
The Supreme Court ruled that in order to prove any accusation against the accused, there had to be evidence that the accused had either encouraged the deceased to commit suicide in some way, conspired with others to do so, or had somehow contributed to any illegal act or omission that led to the suicide. It would be nearly impossible for superior officers to carry out their responsibilities as senior employees if making comments about a subordinate’s work was deemed to be aiding in suicide
A nuanced understanding of the legal concepts of attempt and abetment is essential for comprehending the intricacies of criminal law. These concepts serve as tools for delineating the degrees of involvement and culpability of individuals in unlawful activities. While an attempt signifies a focused effort towards committing a crime, abetment involves actively assisting or encouraging another person’s criminal actions. The legal consequences for these actions can vary widely based on the circumstances, the specific jurisdiction, and the nature of the crimes involved. This underscores the importance of a fair and nuanced approach to the administration of criminal justice, where the distinctions between attempt and abetment are carefully considered in each case.
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- Dhruv Bhardwaj, Abetment under the Indian Penal Code, https://blog.ipleaders.in/abetment-ipc/ (last visited September 15, 2023).
- Koushik Chittella, Difference between abetment and criminal conspiracy, https://blog.ipleaders.in/difference-between-abetment-and-criminal-conspiracy/ (last visited September 15, 2023).