What is conspiracy? What does it mean to conspire?

Whenever I hear the word “conspiracy”, I remember Mel Gibson’s movie, Conspiracy Theory. However, in criminal law, conspiracy is different from the theme in the movie, Conspiracy Theory. Conspiracy can also be of anything: Conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to commit treason, conspiracy to commit burglary, conspiracy to commit any other crime.  There are very many crimes which are accompanied by the word, “Conspiracy”. In both civil and criminal law, conspiracy occurs when two or more people agree to do something illegal or to do something even when legal, in an illegal way.

The term “conspiracy” is used to impute an agreement. It can be used in both civil and criminal cases. However, depending on the elements of the crime, the elements of the conspiracy differ. For example, in civil cases, conspiracy is when two or more people who are usually referred to as conspirators have an agreement to commit an illegal act. In criminal cases, conspiracy is when the conspirator does something to help complete the goals of the conspiracy, in addition to agreeing to do an illegal act.

For any act to qualify as a conspiracy, the accused or the defendant must have had knowledge that what he or she did or did not do was to further an illegal purpose. It is like aiding and abetting.

Conspiracy is related to aiding and abetting. For instance, an accused person may be convicted for conspiracy if he agrees with two friends to rob a neighbour’s house, then goes and buys a toy gun to help them carry out the robbery. Even though buying a toy gun is legal, the fact that the defendant did it for an illegal purpose and to further the ends of the conspiracy (to rob the house) is enough.

Civil conspiracy also plays a large part in economic injury law.  For instance, two or more corporations that agree to engage in antitrust behaviour like price-fixing, they may be sued for conspiracy as well as for violating the antitrust laws.  Likewise, if two or more individuals or companies agree to act to prevent a third person or company from making a business deal with someone else, they may be sued for conspiracy as well as for the underlying tort of tortious interference with a contract or a business relationship.

Lord Coke describes conspiracy as a consultation or agreement between two or more to appeal or indict an innocent person falsely and maliciously, whom accordingly they cause to be indicted or appealed and afterwards the party is acquitted by the verdict of twelve men.

From the above, it can be inferred that conspiracy may be of two kinds:

  1. conspiracy against the individual
  2. conspiracy against the public.

Conspiracies against the individual include conspiracy to injure someone’s reputation and conspiracy to destroy property. Conspiracies against the public include conspiracy to disturb public peace and conspiracy to defraud the government.

Conspiracies against the individual are prosecuted privately in a civil court, while conspiracies against the public are prosecuted by the State, in a criminal court. As such, conspiracies against the individual attract liability for damages if the defendant is found culpable, while conspiracies against the public attract the punishment of imprisonment or a liability of a fine or both if the accused is found guilty of the crime.

In which kind of conspiracy do your facts fall?


This article appears in our law newsletter Vol 1 Issue 2 of January 19th  2018. To receive The Deuteronomy in real time, click HERE

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