Context : 

Most of the members of ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ belonging to other countries who were charged with spreading of COVID 19 cases have obtained release from the court by way of ‘Plea bargaining’. Most of them are walking freely after pleading guilty to minor offenses & minor fines as imposed by the court. 

‘Plea bargaining’ is a process by which the accused plead guilty to a less serious offense than what is provided in the law & lengthy trials can be avoided.

Plea bargaining’ across the globe : 

  • It is the most common practice in the USA avoiding the complicated & lengthy trial. That's why the conviction rate is higher in the USA compared to India.
  • In the U.S. and other countries, the prosecutor plays a main role in bargaining with the offender.

Plea bargaining’ in India:

  • ‘Plea bargaining’ refers to an accused person with criminal charges, who negotiate with the prosecution for a lower or lesser punishment than what is prescribed in the law by simply pleading to a less serious offense. 
  • This can include bargaining on the charges or the type of sentence.
  •  In India, ‘Plea bargaining’ is available to the persons charged with criminal offenses subject to conditions stipulated in the law. It is yet not so common in India. 
  • 'Plea bargaining' was introduced in India in 2006 as an amendment to the CrPC in chapter XXI-A, sections 265A to 265L.
  • While the 'Plead guilty' is always available in the Indian ‘Code of Criminal Procedure’ (CrPC) where the accused can plead guilty instead of his right to full trial.

Process for 'Plea bargaining' :

  • In India, this process can be initiated only by the accused via. applying to the court. 
  • Only an accused who is charged for an offense that does not carry a death sentence, life sentence or a prison term of more than seven years are eligible to apply for plea bargaining.
  • Also, cases that involved offenses affecting 'socio-economic conditions' of the country, a crime against woman & crime against a child below 14 years of age are not covered in this system. 
  • The applicant has to reach the court with an application & an affidavit stating that he has understood the nature & extent of punishment as provided in the law for the offense. 
  • The final outcome may involve compensation & or other expenses to be borne by the accused.
  • Accused may be sent to prison for a term that is half the minimum period fixed by law. In case there is no minimum period prescribed, the sentence can be one-fourth of the maximum sentence prescribed in the law.

What is the stand of the Law Commission of India?

  • 142nd report of the Law Commission of India given the idea of 'concessional treatment' to those accused who plead guilty on their own will.
  • The commission also warned to be careful that this 'concessional treatment' should not involve 'Plea bargaining' with the prosecution.

What are its PROS?

  • The ‘Malimath committee’ on reforming the ‘criminal justice system’ has recommended many recommendations of the Law Commission with respect to plea bargaining. 
  • This will ensure a speedy trial & end the uncertainty over the trial outcome.
  • It will save trial, litigation & administrative cost.
  • Parties can be relieved from anxiety.
  • It can increase conviction rates.
  • Reduce pendency of cases, overcrowding of prisons due to less term punishment, fast trial.
  • Offenders can start afresh their life as early as possible.

What are its CONS?

  • Some experts disapprove of bargaining with the accused saying that lenient sentences should be considered depending upon the circumstances after a full-length regular trial.
  • Many socio-economical reasons like poverty, ignorance & pressure of the prosecution may lead to pleading guilty of someone who may not have committed the crime.

Way Forward :

‘Plea bargaining’ was introduced in 2006, but still not much utilized in India. If a law is introduced it should have a purpose or otherwise, it will defeat the purpose for which it is introduced. The only need is to properly implement it & examine it at every step so that the real purpose can be met along with a stricter check balance.

MCQs :

1) What is/are correct w.r.t 'Plea bargaining' ? Select the correct option/s .

a) The judge of a court asks the offender to write an application for seeking a reduction in sentence.

b) Offender writes an application along with an affidavit & submits it to the court.

c) The offender is asked to write his acceptance of doing a crime in the police station. 

d) Offender pleads guilty to a less serious offense than what is prescribed in the law.

Answer: Option - b, d

2) When was 'Plea bargaining' introduced in India?

a) 2005

b) 2006

c) 2007

d) 2004

Answer: option -b

Mains Questions :

1) Elaborate on the critical differences with examples between 'Plead guilty' & 'Plea bargaining'. Discuss the pros & cons of each system.

2) Do you think the Indian Judiciary system has improved since the introduction of 'Plea bargaining'? If not, what can be done further to strengthen it? Critically examine each point with reference to the system prevailing worldwide. 


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