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WHAT IS PLEA BARGAINING?

Focus: GS-II Governance

Introduction

  • Many members of the Tablighi Jamaat belonging to different countries have obtained release from court cases in recent days by means of plea bargaining.
  • Accused of violating visa conditions by attending a religious congregation in Delhi, these foreign nationals have pleaded guilty to minor offences and paid the fines imposed by the court, escaping tedious trials.
  • These cases have brought the focus on plea bargaining as a practice by which time consuming trials can be avoided.

Plea Bargaining: What is it and how it came to be?

  • Plea bargaining refers to a person charged with a criminal offence negotiating with the prosecution for a lesser punishment than what is provided in law by pleading guilty to a less serious offence.
  • There has always been a provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure for an accused to plead ‘guilty’ instead of claiming the right to a full trial, but it is not the same as plea bargaining.
  • In India, the concept was not part of law until it was introduced in 2006 as part of a set of amendments to the CrPC.
  • Unlike in the U.S. and other countries, where the prosecutor plays a key role in bargaining with the suspected offender, the Indian code makes plea bargaining a process that can be initiated only by the accused.

What are the cases for which Plea Bargaining may be applied for?

  • Cases for which the practice is allowed are limited. Only someone who has been charge sheeted for an offence that does not attract the death sentence, life sentence or a prison term above seven years can make use of the scheme.
  • It is also applicable to private complaints c
  • Other categories of cases that CANNOT be disposed of through plea bargaining are those that involve offences affecting the “socio-economic conditions” of the country, or committed against a woman or a child below the age of 14.

What is the rationale for the scheme? What are its benefits?

  • The Justice Malimath Committee on reforms of the criminal justice system endorsed the various recommendations of the Law Commission with regard to plea bargaining.
  • Some of the advantages it culled out from earlier reports are that the practice would ensure speedy trial, end uncertainty over the outcome of criminal cases, save litigation costs and relieve the parties of anxiety.
  • Prolonged incarceration of undertrials without any progress in the case for years and overcrowding of prisons were also other factors that may be cited in support of reducing pendency of cases and decongesting prisons through plea bargaining.

Do courts have reservations?

  • Case law after the introduction of plea bargaining has not developed much as the provision is possibly not used adequately.
  • Courts are also very particular about the voluntary nature of the exercise, as poverty, ignorance and prosecution pressure should not lead to someone pleading guilty of offences that may not have been committed.

-Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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