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Relationship between Conspiracy and Law of Torts

8 min read

By Arshia Jain

Published On: November 10, 2021 at 19:03 IST

Introduction

Conspiracy torts cover one sort of conspiracy, while criminal law covers the other. The attention is drawn to a tangled web of dishonesty. It will begin with a definition of conspiracy, then move on to a simple contrast of torturous and criminal conspiracy. It will also address the fundamentals, classifications, and conditions that can lead to a lawsuit, all of which will be supported by case law.

Under law, the conspiracy can be explained as when two or more people join without justifiable cause with the intent of deliberately causing harm to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff suffers actual harm as a result, the tort of conspiracy is committed. In other words, a conspiracy is an illegal agreement between two or more persons to do anything illegal, something inappropriate and harmful to others, or to carry out a purpose that is not criminal in and of itself but utilizing illegal means.

This article is focused on whether conspiracy can be considered a tort or not? And their relationship in Indian context.

Conspiracy – a Tort or a Crime?

The term conspiracy is a civil as well as a criminal offense[i]. Conspiracy criminal is not the same as conspiracy tort. The Indian Penal Code of 1860 addresses it. Under criminal law, an agreement between the parties to commit a crime or do a legal act by illegal means is actionable. The conspirators are not necessary to have acted in line with their agreement, i.e., the conduct conspired must not have been carried out. The tort of conspiracy, on the other hand, is not committed by a simple agreement between the parties; rather, the tort is complete only when the plaintiff suffers a significant loss.

Under Sine Qua Non for Conspiracy:

  • There should be more than one person:

To cause harm, the tort requires a two- or more-person agreement, combination, understanding, or concert. Only if there are at least two people can action for conspiracy be brought. In the perspective of the common law, husband and wife were formerly considered to be one person, incapable of conspiring together. This is still true in a criminal conspiracy. In the absence of binding authority and compelling public policy reasons, it has been decided that the fundamental principle that spouses are one person should not be applied to the tort of conspiracy.

  • The act done should be without any lawful justification:

The petitioner must demonstrate that the defendants colluded to commit an illegal act or that the act was legal but was carried out illegally. It is not necessary to make it a legal necessity. To put it another way, there should be no legal justification or excuse. Until this criterion is reached, there will be no conspiracy on the part of the defendants.

  • It should be done wilfully:

The combination’s aim, or goal, must be to injure the plaintiff. “What was the intention of the conspirators or combiners when they performed what they did?” the test asks, rather than “what was the object in the minds of the conspirators or combiners when they acted as they did?” The combiners are not necessary to act with malice aforethought to be held liable; all that is required is that the combiners acted in a manner that was illegal and damaged the plaintiff (not with the result that, even the predictable consequence). The act must be performed freely; otherwise, no conspiracy can be demonstrated.

  • Damage on the part of plaintiff:

Damage is an essential component of the conspiracy tort, which is the basis of the cause of action. It has been decided that the costs incurred by plaintiffs in identifying and opposing the defendants’ illegal conduct may be regarded as direct harm caused by the conspiracy. However, damages for injury to feelings or reputation are not recoverable in a lawsuit based on a “lawful means” conspiracy to harm.

Types of Conspiracy

  • Conspiracy to injure:

This is also known as the ‘Crofter’ Conspiracy, after the case Crofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Co Ltd Vs Veitch[ii], which established this idea. In this case, it was decided that when a group of people joins with the sole purpose of inflicting harm on someone, which would normally be legal even if performed by one person with the intent to cause harm, it is illegal. In this type of conspiracy, the group or alliance’s sole goal is to bring harm to someone.

A noteworthy precedent was established in the case of the Moghul Steamship Company[iii]: If two people, say X and Y, do something during their business to expand their company and enhance their profits, but they also damage someone. In such cases, the act is not actionable in the eyes of the law if there was no intent to injure the victim.

Another significant court case in this regard is Quinn Vs Leathem[iv]. This decision established that it is criminal for two or more persons to plot to harm another person with a legal purpose or excuse, such as persuading his business customers to break contracts with him or not do business with him.

  • Unlawful means of conspiracy:

This type of tort involves an agreement between two or more parties. When at least one of them agrees to employ criminal means against the claimant. Let’s look at an important example:

In the case of Rohtas Industries Staff Union Vs Rohtas Industries[v], the workers at the two industrial locations went on strike in this case due to the circumstances. The above-mentioned strike was illegal under Section 23 read with Section 24 of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947.

The Supreme Court was asked if the workers were obligated to reimburse the management for losses incurred during the strike period. According to the court, the strike’s objective was not to inflict injury or damage to industrial establishments. The strike, while it may be categorized as a conspiracy, could not be prosecuted.

This type of conspiracy consists of two parts: The motive of the Defendant and the unlawful means. The “Motive of the Defendant” is a type of conspiracy does not require a prior desire to damage the claimant. However, the purpose does not have to be the most essential component in this circumstance; the claimant must have suffered harm because of the act. The claimant’s damages must be considered as a vital cornerstone when assessing the defendant’s or accused’s liability.

Whereas “Unlawful means” refer to conduct or conspiracies of such acts that would be unjust and liable under Tort Law. Even behaviour’s that would be illegal if carried out by a single person are covered in this category. If these two traits are found in an act, it is characterized as “Unlawful Means Conspiracy.”

Judgements

  • Crofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Co. Ltd. Vs Veitch[vi] – No evidence of a conspiracy

Because the dockers were union members, the defendants, a trade union, persuaded them to refuse to handle the plaintiff’s products (without there being any breach of contract). The embargo’s purpose was to limit competition in the yarn trade, so improving the industry’s economic stability and, as a result, enhancing mill workers’ salary options. The union took steps to protect the interests of its members. Because there was no evidence of a conspiracy on their behalf, the defendants were declared not guilty.

  • Mogul Steamship Co. Vs McGregor Gow and Co[vii] – Lawful objective of protecting, expanding, and increasing their profits

The defendants, who were shipowners sailing between China and Europe, intended to obtain a monopoly on the homeward tea trade and thereby keep the freight rate stable. They formed an association and offered a 5% reimbursement to Chinese merchants and shippers who carried their tea solely on vessels controlled by club members. On all freight for which they have paid. The defendants denied the plaintiffs, who were competing ship owners operating between China and Europe, access to all the benefits of the association, and as a result, they suffered damage.

The plaintiffs sued the defendants, alleging that they plotted to damage them. The defendants’ acts were ruled to be permissible since they were carried out with the lawful objective of protecting, expanding, and increasing their profits, and they did not utilize any illegal means. Because the defendants were not found guilty, the plaintiffs had no cause of action.

  • Hunteley Vs Thornton[viii] – A union member, refused to take part in the union’s strike proposal

The complainant, a union member, refused to take part in the union’s strike proposal. The defendants, the secretary, and other union members sought the plaintiff’s expulsion from the union, but the union’s executive council refused. The defendants, who were bitterly opposed to the plaintiff, went to tremendous pains to keep him out of work. Rather than being motivated by union interests, the defendants’ conduct was driven by hatred and animosity. The plaintiffs were awarded damages after the defendants were determined to be at fault.

Conclusion

Even though India was dominated by the British Empire, Indian law is based on English common law. In this way, Indian Tort Law is comparable. However, because the topic of conspiracy under tort law is still in its infancy in India, additional research is needed. Furthermore, the tort of conspiracy has a significant problem in that it can only be used to hold a group of people liable, not an individual.

The assumption is that if three of the five conspirators are declared not guilty, the other two will not be found guilty by a court of law. As a result, several adjustments, changes, and enactments are required for the conspiracy tort.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Arshia Jain is a second-year law student at SVKM’s NMIMS, School of Law in Navi Mumbai, Mumbai, India, pursuing a BBALLB. When it comes to work, she is a dedicated and hardworking individual. She believes in pursuing one’s dreams and remaining optimistic throughout life.

Edited by: Aashima Kakkar, Associate Editor, Law Insider

References

  • Stephenson, Graham, “Source book on torts”, Cavendish publishing Ltd., 2nd ed., London (2000)
  • Baker, C.D., “Tort”, Sweet and Maxwell, 6th ed., London (1996)
  • Howarth, David, “Text book on torts”, Butter Worhs publications Co., London(1995)
  • Brazier R, Margaret, “Clerk and Lindsell on torts”, 17th edn., Sweet and Maxwell, UK, (1995).
  • Gerven, Walter Van, Tort law, Hart publishing, USA (2000).
  • Rattan Lal and Dhiraj Lal, “The Law of Torts”, 23rd edn., Wadhwa and Co., New Delhi, (1997).
  • Bangia, R.K., “Law of Torts”, 16th edn., Allahabad law agency, Haryana, (2002).

[i] Section 120 A, IPC defines conspiracy as follows: “when two or more persons agreed to do or cause to be done: a) An illegal act or, b) An act which is not illegal by illegal means, such an agreement is designated a criminal conspiracy.”

[ii] Crofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Co Ltd Vs Veitch (1942) A.C. 435

[iii] Mogul Steamship Co. Vs McGregor Gow and Co (1892) A.C. 25.

[iv] Quinn Vs Leathem (1901) A.C. 495.

[v] Rohtas Industries Staff Union Vs Rohtas Industries 1976 AIR 425, 1976 SCR (3) 12

[vi] Crofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Co Ltd Vs Veitch (1942) A.C. 435

[vii] Mogul Steamship Co. Vs McGregor Gow and Co (1892) A.C. 25.

[viii] Hunteley Vs Thornton (1957) 1 W.L.R. 321; (1957) 1 ALL E. R. 234