Edited by – Anubhav Yadav
This article is written by Pragya Shakya, a law student of University of North Bengal, Siliguri.
What is an Unlawful Assembly?
Unlawful Assembly is a legal term that comes under the preview of offences against public tranquillity. Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code defines unlawful assembly as a group of five or more persons who assemble with the common intent or object to:
- Subdue or restrain by using or showing criminal force.
- By depriving one of the incorporeal rights such as right to way or right to use of water or taking possession of any property by the use of criminal force.
- Restrain the performance of any legal process or any law.
- Conduct a criminal trespass, mischief or any other offence.
- Constrain any person to do any illegal act by the use or show of criminal force.
According to section 141, in order to constitute an unlawful assembly, there has to be the presence of 5 or more persons and with a common object of disrupting public peace. Article 19 (1) (b) of the Indian constitution has granted the people of India the fundamental right to assemble peacefully and without any possession of arms or ammunition. But however, section 141 of the Indian Penal Code aims to consider unlawful assembly as a criminal offence.
Mohan Singh’s case is an exceptional example of an unlawful assembly where it was held by the court that only a group of 5 or more persons is considered as an unlawful assembly provided the presence of other objectives mentioned according to section 141 of IPC.
Who is a member of an Unlawful Assembly?
Section 142 of the Indian Penal Code defines a member as “whoever, being aware of facts which render any assembly an unlawful assembly, intentionally joins that assembly, or continues in it, is said to be a member of an unlawful assembly”. It means that any person who intentionally joins an assembly of 5 or more persons even after being aware of the facts that make it an unlawful assembly or continue to remain a part of it, that every person is considered to be the member of an unlawful assembly. The person involved in an unlawful assembly, in order to be considered as a ‘member’ is supposed to be physically present in the crowd. If a person knows the common object of an unlawful assembly, yet he is not physically present at the very moment or if a person does not have a common object as the other members, but is physically present in the crowd, he is not considered as the member of that unlawful assembly.
In Lallan Rai and Ors v. The State of Bihar, the court held that a person who has the common object must be physically present at the time and place of occurrence in order to be considered as a member of the unlawful assembly.
Section 143 of the Indian Penal Code deals with the punishment for the members of an unlawful assembly. A member shall be punishable with an imprisonment of up to six months, or with fine, or with both.
Section 144 is just an extended version of section 143. It applies to those members who are armed with a weapon. They are to be punished with imprisonment of up to 2 years, or with fine, or with both.
According to section 145 of IPC, whosoever joins or continues to remain a part of an unlawful assembly, even after having full knowledge that such an assembly has been directed with the manner prescribed by law to disperse, shall be punishable with imprisonment up to 2 years, or with fine, or with both.
Section 146, 147, and 148 deals with rioting. Often the term ‘rioting’ and ‘unlawful assembly’ are considered to be the same. Although there is no much difference between the two, and that both the terms are considered to be the two sides of the same coin, there is a difference of a thin life. It may be considered that unlawful assembly is a genus, while rioting is the species. It is just the use of violence that differentiates rioting from unlawful assembly to prosecution of the common object. Whenever an unlawful assembly or its member(s) use force and violence, every member of that assembly is then guilty of the offence of rioting. Punishment for unlawful assembly is much lighter than compared to rioting where the guilty is punishable with imprisonment of up to 2 years, or with fine, or with both whereas for unlawful assembly the guilty is punishable with imprisonment of up to six months, or with fine, or with both.
Next is section 149 of IPC which deals with every member of an unlawful assembly being held guilty of the offence committed in prosecution of the common object?
Section 150 makes any person who hires, engages or employs any person to take part in an unlawful assembly is held liable and shall be punishable as if he himself had committed the offence and will be considered as if he himself is the member of that unlawful assembly.
Section 152 deals with assaulting or obstructing a public servant in discharge of his duty in seeking to disperse an unlawful assembly or to suppress a riot and such persons shall be punishable with an imprisonment of up to 3 years, or with fine, or with both.
Section 157 is a wider section which deals with the punishment for harbouring the hired persons. Any person that harbours even after having the full knowledge that they are hired to be a part of an unlawful assembly shall be held liable with imprisonment of up to 6 months, or with fine, or with both.
Section 158 deals with any person who was hired or engaged or tries to be hired or engaged in abetting in doing any acts as specified in section 141, shall be punishable with an imprisonment of up to 6 months, or with fine, or with both.
Dispersal of Unlawful Assembly by use of Civil Forces:
Under Article 19 (1) (b), the fundamental right is subject to the restriction as imposed under article 19 (3). Section 129 of Cr.P.C. states that it can be invoked for “public security” and to maintain peace. Section 129 (1) states that any Executive Magistrate or officer in charge of a police station or, any police officer, not below the rank of a sub-inspector, can issue orders to an assembly of five or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace, to disperse. The members of the assembly are then expected to disperse such assemblies accordingly. Further, as per sub-section (2) of section 129 if, so commanded, any such assembly does not disperse, or if, shows a determination not to disperse, the Executive Magistrate further can use the civil force – which is the police in order to disperse such unlawful assemblies. If necessary, arresting and confining the persons who form part of not dispersing such assemblies may be punished according to law.
However, the power given is subject to the following conditions:
- The assembly must be of five or more persons.
- The assembly must intent of deliberate disturbance of the peace.
- Such unlawful assemblies are required to be dispersed.
- Force can only be used when the group does not will to disperse even after being ordered to do so.
Dispersal of Unlawful Assembly by Armed Forces:
Section 130 (1) of Cr.P.C. gives the power to disperse an unlawful assembly to the armed forces. The Executive Magistrate of the highest rank may command for the dispersal of the assembly by the armed forces only if the unlawful assembly could not be dispersed otherwise or if it is extremely necessary for such assembly to be dispersed for the public security.
Protection against Prosecution:
Section 132 gives protection to the persons who have done any activity in conviction of their power under section 129, 130 and 131. According to section 132 (1), for any activity done related to section 129, 130 and 131 the prosecution shall not lay against any person in criminal court except:
- With the advance permission of an officer or member of the armed forces of the central government;
- For any other case, with the advance permission of the state government.
As per section 132 (2) the following person shall be considered having committed no offence:
- An executive magistrate or a police officer doing an act in good faith;
- Any other person doing an act in good faith in accordance with an order under section 129 and 130;
- The officer of armed forces acting in good faith under section 131.
- Member of the armed forces acting in compliance with the order he is deemed to obey.
Accountability shall be taken for any act that is done with no good faith. Therefore this section gives protection against prosecution to any person who has performed an act in a bona fide manner.
Unlawful Assembly in the United Kingdom with comparison to India:
Unlawful assembly in the UK and in India are quite different from each other though the intent of both is the same. Unlawful assembly in UK means an assembly of 3 or more persons basically formed to commit a criminal offence or conduct an unlawful purpose in order to disrupt the public peace. In UK, an assembly cannot be declared unlawful until and unless it is proclaimed by the statute.
- When 6 men are sitting together in an open stadium peacefully, it is not regarded as an unlawful assembly within the section 141 of the Indian Penal Code.
- When 10-15 people are gathered outside the district court during a case hearing and start creating havoc and tension by using force and violence when the court gives a verdict against their favour, it constitutes an unlawful assembly.
 Mohan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1963) AIR 174.
 The Indian Penal Code Act, 1860, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860.
 Lallan Rai and Ors v. The State of Bihar, AIR 2003 S.C. 333
Written by –
Author Name – Pragya Shakya
Published on – 08/08/2020