Plea Bargaining is a negotiation that is done before a case goes for trial. The main parties under this concept are- the counsel (who will conduct the procedure), the defendant and the prosecutor. This concept can only exist if the accused has pleaded guilty to the criminal charges against him in exchange for concessions provided by the prosecutor. Of course, the compromise will be decided based on the crime committed by the accused.
The concept of Plea Bargaining was borrowed from the USA, then in ‘142 Law Commission Report’ first suggested that India should adopt plea bargaining in Criminal Cases. Later, we had ‘Malimath Committee’ suggesting the same. The reports stated that there had been a rapid increase of criminal cases in India, and introducing this concept will lessen the burden on the courts and help deliver quick justice.
The definition of plea bargaining sparked a heated discussion in India. The Supreme Court, in the case of State of Uttar Pradesh vs Chandrika highlighted that a court cannot dispose of a criminal case solely on plea bargaining but must rule on its merits. If the accused admits to his crime, a suitable punishment must be imposed. The court went on to say that only admitting guilty could not be enough to have a penalty reduced. The government eventually agreed and introduced Sections 265A – 265L to the Code of Criminal Procedure in 1973 (CrPC).
The maximum period for imprisonment is seven years for offences where the country's socio-economic condition and offence against women or children are not affected.
CRITICISMS OF PLEA BARGAINING
This system has been criticised for minimising the importance of litigation and legal procedures. It is said to privatise conflicts at the expense of public interest and justice, especially in criminal trials, when offences are against society as a whole.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court rejected the use of the principle of plea bargaining in ‘Murlidhar Meghraj Loya vs the State of Maharashtra’ because it infringes on the human right of an individual convicted of a crime not to be forced to be a witness against himself.
In ‘Kasambhai vs Gujarat State’, the Supreme Court, though criticising and regretting the magistrate's acceptance of plea bargaining, claimed that it is against public policy. In addition, the court found that plea bargaining was ultra-vires to culture and the Constitution and that it might promote bribery, corruption and pollute the pure fountain of justice.
In Thippeswamy vs the State of Karnataka, the court highlighted that any attempts made to persuade the accused to plead guilty by guaranteeing him lesser punishment will violate Article 21 of the Constitution.
Hence, the Supreme Court was not always in favour of introducing Plea Bargaining in criminal cases.
Plea bargaining has been identified as a pressing necessity. It might not be able to fix all issues, but it will certainly lessen their seriousness. In India, plea bargaining seeks to resolve this, and amid its flaws, it will help speed up the resolution of disputes in the courts. It gives the Indian Criminal Justice System reliability and legitimacy, and it can transform the way criminal trials are conducted in India. It has the potential to aid court reform and increase access to justice. Overall, it is a comprehensive solution to ensuring justice. However, it should have stricter rules to ensure that no illegal activities are being performed, like influencing the accused. The accused should have a free mind to lead with Plea bargaining.
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