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What is a Conspiracy?

Under the criminal law a conspiracy can be much more mundane than its pop-culture connotations might suggest. Given the right circumstances, a conspiracy can occur when two people simply agree to commit an offence even though they never act upon that agreement. However, in more complex cases conspiracy is often linked to organised crime.

Conspiracy exists both as a statutory offence prosecuted under the Criminal Law Act 1977 and at common law, such as conspiracy to defraud. The requirements are very similar for both but the statute defines the offence in specific detail.

Conspiracy - an Inchoate Crime

Conspiracy is known as an ‘inchoate crime' along with attempting and encouraging or assisting a crime; where someone has taken steps to commit a crime and this alone is an offence without the planned crime actually being committed. For example, if A and B agree to murder C, but never actually kill C, they can still be guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.

Conspiracy - Requirements

For an offence to have been committed the following elements are needed:

1. Two or more people to agree to carry out a criminal offence.

2. There must be an intention to be a party to an agreement to do an unlawful act.

If there are only two people involved and the other person is the first person's wife, husband or partner, or if they are a child, or an intended victim of the offence; it cannot be conspiracy. Repentance, lack of opportunity and failure are all immaterial to the commission of the offence.

Prosecution of Conspiracy

If the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) seek to prosecute a charge of conspiracy it is likely that offence that the accused conspired to commit never took place. This is because if the ‘substantive offence' is also committed, the CPS guidelines state they must justify prosecuting both offences or elect to either prosecute the conspiracy charge or the substantive offence charge. Rarely, if it is felt that the substantive counts do not represent the overall criminality of the defendant's actions, then both will be prosecuted.

Proving Conspiracy

As a conspiracy charge is usually brought due to a lack of evidence for a substantive offence, it is often complicated and difficult to prove. It must be shown that the conspirators agreed on a course of conduct involving an act or omission by at least one of them which is prohibited by the criminal law, knowing or intending that a criminal act will be taking place as part of the course of conduct or as part of the agreement.

Would-be conspirators often attempt to keep as little evidence as possible of such agreements so finding evidence can be complicated. Even if evidence of one of the conspirators does exist, the reliability of that evidence will be open to question.

Conclusion

Due to the nature of the offence and the evidential requirements, conspiracy can be a difficult offence to prosecute. However, it is a very serious offence to be charged with and the penalty for conspiracy can be severe so the accused should immediately instruct solicitors with experience in this area of law.

Useful Links

The following links may be useful if you need more information.