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What is plea bargaining and how does it work?

Topics Covered: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.

What is plea bargaining and how does it work?

Context:

Many members of the Tablighi Jamaat belonging to different countries have obtained release from court cases in recent days by means of plea bargaining.

What is Plea Bargaining?

It 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.

  • It primarily involves pre-trial negotiations between the accused and the prosecutor. It may involve bargaining on the charge or in the quantum of sentence.

When was it introduced in India?

Plea bargaining was introduced in 2006 as part of a set of amendments to the CrPC as Chapter XXI-A, containing Sections 265A to 265L.

In what circumstances is it allowed? How does it work?

In India, a plea bargaining process can be initiated only by the accused;

  • The accused will have to apply to the court for invoking the benefit of bargaining.
  • The applicant should state that it is a voluntary preference and that he has understood the nature and extent of punishment provided in law for the offence.
  • The court would then issue notice to the prosecutor and the complainant or victim, if any, for a hearing.
  • The voluntary nature of the application must be ascertained by the judge in an in-camera hearing at which the other side should not be present.
  • Thereafter, the court may permit the prosecutor, the investigating officer and the victim to hold a meeting for a “satisfactory disposition of the case”.
  • The outcome may involve payment of compensation and other expenses to the victim by the accused.
  • Once mutual satisfaction is reached, the court shall formalise the arrangement by way of a report signed by all the parties and the presiding officer.
  • The accused may be sentenced to a prison term that is half the minimum period fixed for the offence. If there is no minimum term prescribed, the sentence should run up to one-fourth of the maximum sentence stipulated in law.

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 under Chapter XXI-A.
  • It is also applicable to private complaints of which a criminal court has taken cognisance.
  • It is not available for 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?

The Justice Malimath Committee on reforms of the criminal justice system endorsed the various recommendations of the Law Commission with regard to plea bargaining.

Advantages:

  1. Ensure speedy trial.
  2. end uncertainty over the outcome of criminal cases.
  3. save litigation costs and relieve the parties of anxiety.
  4. Impact on conviction rates.
  5. Help offenders make a fresh start in life.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Justice Malimath Committee is related to?
  2. When was plea bargaining introduced in India?
  3. Is it covered under the CrPC?
  4. Important subjects under the concurrent list.

Mains Link:

What is plea bargaining? How does it work? Discuss.

Sources: the Hindu.