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Plea Bargaining in India - Devika Joshi

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

After it rains there is a rainbow, after the storm, the sun shines again. Rainbow and sunlight are the components of peace and tranquillity.

There are always some positives of negatives. Plea Bargaining emerged as a glimpse of hope amid the Indian judicial system dealing with crime and their respective punishments.

Plea bargaining in legal terms refers to a deal in-between the prosecuting attorney and defendants in criminal cases, whereby the accused is permitted to plead guilty and in exchange provided with much fewer charges than would originally be charged if convicted at trial but the same is not enforceable until the judge approves.

One should discourage litigation and persuade everybody to compromise whenever it is possible. Litigation is a costly affair and leads to more time consumption. As a peacemaker, a lawyer should have a superior priority of being noble there would be enough chance to do business in the near future. Plea Bargaining helps us in doing so by serving as an ADR mechanism in criminal cases thereby avoiding the lengthy litigation process.

It is a win-win situation for both parties for the accused; it helps him to avoid the onerous litigation battle and get lesser punishment, on the other hand, it helps the victim to get compensation and respite from protracted court proceedings. Plea Bargaining will eventually lead to lesser costs and time saving for both parties.

The theory of Bargaining for a reduction in charges commenced in the United States of America but presently it has acquired acceptance globally over the years. This Theory emerged as the most debatable topic in India. Critics were of the opinion that public policy is violated by this. The concept of plea bargaining was bluntly criticized repeatedly by the Supreme Court through its various judgments.

The Apex court was of the opinion that the court cannot consider plea bargaining as the ground for settling the criminal cases. Accused accepting the fact that he/she is guilty cannot be the sole criterion for decreasing the sentence. The Supreme Court in some other case also pointed that the concept of Plea Bargaining was against constitutional rights, unlawful and in addition uplifts conspiracy, dishonesty at the same time adulterating the purity of the legal process.

The commission dealing with ensuring law and justice in one of its reports suggested that the introduction of Bargaining for reducing the charges for accepting that one is guilty of that offense can serve as a substitute to decrease the postponement in resolving the cases dealing with crime and putting an end to them. “Malimath Committee Report” was the one which supported this suggestion of the law committee. A committee had been formed by the NDA government which was supervised by V.S. Malimath who had served as the chief justice in high courts of Karnataka and Kerala to come up with some suggestions to address the rapidly increasing criminal cases. The Malimath Committee proposed that this concept should be instituted in the Indian law dealing with crimes to facilitate the rapid resolvement of cases. Accomplishments of the United States of America because of the application of this concept were taken into consideration.

In the case of State of Gujarat V. Natwar Harchanji Thakor, (2005) 1 GLR 709, the High Court of Gujarat held that “the ultimate objective of the legal process is to provide simple, cheap as well as speedy resolvement of disputes, and taking into consideration the present scenario of undecided cases and postponement in providing remedies, radical transformations become vital. Everything should change with time and nothing should remain constant in such a dynamic environment.” This somehow pointed in favour of Plea Bargaining.

It was through an amendment in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 that plea bargaining was introduced in Chapter XXIA comprising sections from 265A till 265L. Bargaining for reducing charges is not valid for crimes whose penalty is imprisonment for a lifetime or capital punishment. It is just applied to those offenses whose penalty is not more than 7 years. Supplementary to this, wrongs that affect the social and economic status of the country or are carried out in opposition to females or children under 14 years of age were kept out of the scope of this concept.

Plea bargaining is mainly of three kinds: The first one being Charge bargaining- It refers to negotiating for lesser severe charges in case of multiple criminal charges usually in return of plea of guilty. Second is Sentence Bargaining: the defendant is offered a substitute or lighter sentence in exchange for accepting that they are guilty. The third kind of Plea bargaining is Fact bargaining: It occurs when the prosecutor and defendants bargain to stipulate as to which sort of events have to present before the court Amongst all three kinds Charge and Sentence bargaining is used much more than Plea Bargaining.

Plea Bargaining is like a double-edged sword it has both positives and negatives it provides fast and speedy means of disposing cases and reduces the burden of court and at the same time hampers the victim’s right to a fair trial, leads to corruption in the legal process and denies justice.

To conclude, Indian Criminal justice system has reformed over time and has adapted itself to the dynamic environment thus coping up with the changing legal and social standards thereby came up with the concept of bargaining for reducing the charges which are quite advantageous to both the parties associated with the crime, but plenty of measures are required to put an end to possible misapplication of this concept. Plea bargaining emerged as a rational approach to control jam-packed courts dealing with criminal cases and jails filled with prisoners and a suitable alternative to upgrade standards of dealing with lawsuits as well as make proper use of judicial resources and infrastructure and reduce expenses. Plea bargaining made people realize that there can be a brighter side to Criminal law. This couldn’t have been imagined by many because people just get trapped in their problems(negatives) so much that they tend to forget about the positives in that particular situation. And in the end it is just what you perceive. This concept is definitely benefitting millions of accused and victims of criminal offences and will continue to, only condition being it is propagated and executed suitably.

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