Brief Introduction:

“Plead Guilty and ensure Lesser Sentence” is the shortest possible meaning of Plea Bargaining. The Concept of Plea Bargaining in India is just three years old. The Concept was introduced in India by means of Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2005. By this amendment, a new chapter that is Chapter XXI A has been introduced in the Cr.P.C.

History of Plea Bargaining:

Plea Bargaining fostered by the Indian Legislature is actually the sperm child of the West. The concept has been very much alive in the American System in the 19th century itself. Plea Bargaining is so common in the American System that every minute a case is disposed in the American Criminal Court by way of guilty plea. England, Wales, Australia and Victoria also recognizes plea bargaining. Every time we turn on to an American Cinema, we come across this concept.

Plea Bargaining: The Indian Version

Plea Bargaining can be defined as “Pre-Trial negotiations between the accused and the prosecution during which the accused agrees to plead guilty in exchange for certain concessions by the prosecution.”

The Supreme Court was very much against the concept of Plea Bargaining before its introduction. In State of Uttar Pradesh Vs Chandrika, the Supreme Court of India held that it is settled law that on the basis of Plea Bargaining court cannot dispose of the criminal cases. The court has to decide it on merits. If the accused confesses his guilt, even then appropriate sentence is required to be implemented. 

The Court further held in the same case that, mere acceptance or admission of the guilt should not be a ground for reduction of sentence, nor can the accused bargain with the court that as he is pleading guilty his sentence should be reduced.

Despite strict opposition by the Supreme Court, the Government found it comfortable to introduce this concept. Long list of pending cases before the Criminal courts was cited as the reason for the enactment of this provision. If a person accepts his guilt, then the time of the Prosecution is saved, which can be then properly utilized for proving more serious offences.

Plea Bargaining is applicable only in respect of those offences for which Punishment of Imprisonment is up to a period of 7 years. It does not apply where such offence affects the Socio-economic condition of the country or has been committed against women or committed against a child below the age of 14 years. 

The application for plea bargaining should be filed by the accused voluntarily before the court which is trying the offence. The complainant and the accused are then given time by the court to work out satisfactory disposition of the case. The court may reduce the sentence to 1/4th if the accused pleads guilty. There shall be no appeal in the case where judgment has been pronounced by the court on the basis of plea bargaining.

Drawbacks of Plea-Bargaining:

India is a country with lots of illiterate citizens who are unaware of their rights. There are people who don’t even know that they have a right to legal assistance when they stand before the court as an accused. The poor and illiterate citizens can be easily overpowered by the police and asked to plead guilty. This may convert the whole process of trial into “a drama”.  

The uneducated won’t even know that they have a far better chance of winning their case and be acquitted. Moreover, the officers in charge of the investigation may be tempted to enter into deals with the accused for monetary gains. If the plea bargaining application of the accused is rejected then the accused would find it very difficult to prove himself innocent.

The concept of Plea Bargaining has been introduced in India by seeing its success in America. The Law Makers in India have failed to take account of the fact that in America, Plea Bargaining was a practice even before it was introduced in the law. In India, the concept has been directly introduced as Law. The law makers even failed to notice the wide gap between the socio-economic conditions of U.S and India. The Government has also failed to update the people regarding this new amendment in the Criminal Law. The success or failure of this Concept in the Indian Context can only be judged when this baby concept becomes five or six years old.

* The author of this article is a LL.M Scholar from ‘Dr. Ambedkar Law College’, Puducherry-605 014. Xavier hails from Mayabunder in North Andaman. He is one of the few youth from the islands to take up Masters in Law.