A crime is a public wrong which is penalized by law in order to prevent the furtherance of criminal activity and punish the offender. The criminal justice system is required to speedy and effective justice and respect the principle natural justice. In order to do this, the judicial system formulates various rule and regulations which elevates the burden of the court and necessitate them to deliver justice in time. One such method is plea bargaining which was introduced by the American Legislation to process the cases quickly. Due to its effectiveness, the Indian justice system has tended to adopt its methodology of processing its trials.
History of Plea Bargaining
The United States doctrine of “Nolo Contendere” which in Latin means “I do not wish to contend” leads to the Indian concept of plea bargaining. This doctrine was interpreted by the Apex Court as an “implied confession or admission of guilt”. According to Black’s Law Dictionary defines it as “The process whereby the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval”. It usually involves the accused pleading guilty to a lesser offense or to only one or some of the counts of a multi-count indictment in return for a lighter sentence than that position for the grave charge . In general , plea bargaining has been regarded as an arrangement between the counsellors of the case in court where the accused agrees to plead guilty to some charges and in return is given a certain extent of concession from the prosecutor. In other words, it can be understood as pre-trial negotiations between the prosecution and accused where the later plead his guilt and in exchange, the prosecutor waives a few of the charges.
Plea bargaining in India
Under Indian law, plea bargaining was introduced in Criminal Procedure Code under a new chapter i.e., chapter XXIA through Criminal (Amendment) Act, 2005 passed by parliament after the recommendation of the 154th report of the Law Commission. The main object was to reduce pending cases, enable provisions for compensation to the aggrieved party and prevent delay injustice.
The face of the Indian Criminal Justice System has changed ever since this chapter was inserted under criminal law. It has been widely criticized as against public policy for which the apex court clarified that plea bargaining is only a tool for negotiation and shall not be the sole criteria for disposal of cases. The Court shall dispose of cases based on merit. Further, the court also stated that mere admission of guilt shall not also be ground for a concession of sentence .
However, it shall be pertinent to note that not all matters are eligible for plea bargaining. Under the criminal procedure code, plea bargaining is not applicable to those offenses which comprises a punishment of life imprisonment up to seven years. Also, socio-economic offense or offense committed by a minor of age fourteen or below shall not be eligible plea bargaining.
The Relevant Provision & Procedure for Plea Bargaining under Criminal Procedure Code 1908
Section 265- A: Accused punished with an offense other than offences having a punishment of death or life imprisonment is eligible for plea bargaining.
Section 265- B: Application for plea bargaining shall contain details of cases along with charges made against the accused with respect to the case. An affidavit of the accused shall be accompanied along with the application.
Section 265-C: Procedure followed by the court in namely in two conditions:-
a.) If cases are instituted by the police report, it shall be the duty of the court to issue a notice to Public Prosecutor, investigating officer and accused & victim to arrange a meeting to work out the satisfactory disposal.
b.) If the cases are instituted otherwise the court shall issue notice only to the accused and aggrieved person to arrange a meeting for satisfactory disposal.
Section 265 -D: After the completion of the disposal of the case, a meeting is conducted by preparing a report signed by a presiding officer and other parties in the meeting. In cases where there is a conclusion, the court shall record the reasons and procedure as the sub-section (1) of section 265-B.
Section 265- E: On completion of filling of a police report, Court shall hear the pleadings of parties to the dispute and decide the punishment or release of the accused.
Section 265- F: Provision for cases of mutual disposition and judgment provided thereto.
Section 265-G: No appeal shall lie against such judgment
Section 265- H: Court shall have to authority and power to decide on bail, trail and any other matter with respect to plea bargaining cases.
Section 265-I: In cases where the accused set-off the period of detention for undergoing imprisonment the section 428 of Criminal procedure code shall apply under this Chapter
Section 265 -J: Notwithstanding anything inconsistent contained in any other provision of the Code and nothing in such other provision shall be construed to contain the meaning of any provision of this Chapter
Section 265-K: Notwithstanding anything contained in any law at the time being in force, the statement provided by the accused in his application shall solely be used for the purpose of plea bargaining filed under section 265-B of criminal procedure code.
Section 265-L: This chapter shall not be applicable to any juvenile or child as defined under section (k) of section 2 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (56 of 2000).
Effect of Plea Bargaining Over Court Proceedings
Plea bargaining has been justified for many reasons like Plea bargaining permits a prompt resolution of criminal proceedings with a win-win situation for both sides and avoids delay and uncertainties of trial and appeal . Following are the effects of plea bargaining over court procedure:-
1. Improvises the equity of Indian criminal system
2. Protect and alerts the public from a criminal or offender.
3. Enhances speedy trials and reduces the time taken between charge and disposal of cases.
4. With the help of testimony and co-operation of the defendant, the government is able to prosecute high profile criminal in short duration
5. The practice of plea- bargaining save time and expense of trial
6. In rape cases, it helps in preventing any kind of psychological effect on the survivor by avoiding the need for further production of evidence.
The plea-bargaining concept has proven to be advantageous to the justice system in various aspects and thereby such practices should be encouraged. However, the judiciary plays a key role in the successful administration and implementation of plea-bargaining. It shall be pertinent to note that there have also been numerous cases where the principle has been abused. Such as weak advocates often tend to misguide their clients to opt for plea-bargaining even if they have a fair chance of being acquittal of all charges. Also, the prosecutor may withdraw some of the important charges due to his inexperience. In order to avoid any misleading or grave negligence, the judiciary has to keep in mind that plea-bargaining shall not be a sole criterion for deciding either as per the law it is mandatory for the court to provide its verdict based on plea-bargaining. The judge will decide the cases based on their merits.
“The views of the authors are personal“
1. BryamA Garner and Honey Campbell “Blacks Law Dectinory’’8th Ed. (2004), West Publishing Co, p.1190
2.State of Uttar Pradesh v. Chandrika, 2000 Cr. L.J. 384 ( 386), A.I.R. 2000 SC 164
3. Dr.Suman Rai, Law relating to Plea Bargaining , 2nd edn, (New Delhi: Orient Publishing Co,2014) p.93