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“Plead Guilty and bargain Lesser Sentence” is the shortest possible meaning of Plea Bargaining. “Plea bargaining” falls into two distinct categories; first category is “charge bargaining” which refers to a promise by the prosecutor to reduce or dismiss some of the charges brought against the defendant in exchange for a guilty plea. The second category, “sentence bargaining” refers to a promise by the prosecutor to recommend a specific sentence or to refrain from making any sentence recommendation in exchange for a guilty plea. The concept of plea bargaining was introduced in India Criminal Justice System in the year 2005 by means of Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2005. By this amendment, a new Chapter XXI A has been introduced in the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Earlier the Criminal Jurisprudence of India did not recognize the concept of “plea bargaining” as such. However, reference may be made to section 206 (1) and Section 206 (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure and section 208 (1) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. These provisions enable the accused to plead guilty for petty offences and to pay small fines whereupon the case is closed.
The Government was hesitant to take a policy decision on the introduction of the plea bargaining in the criminal justice system due to opposition from the legal experts, judiciary etc. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has criticized the concept of Plea Bargaining in its judgment namely, Murlidhar Meghraj Loya v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1976 SC 1929
Further, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Kachhia Patel Shantilal Koderlal v. State of Gujarat and Anr 1980CriLJ553 strongly disapproved the practice of plea bargain. The Apex Court held that practice of plea bargaining is unconstitutional, illegal and would tend to encourage corruption, collusion and pollute the pure fount of justice. Similarly, in Kasambhai v. State of Gujarat, AIR 1980 SC 854 the Supreme Court had expressed an apprehension that such a provision is likely to be abused.
The Law Commission of India advocated the introduction of ‘Plea Bargaining’ in the 142nd, 154th and 177th reports. The Law commission noted that the experience of United States was an evidence of plea bargaining being a means for the disposal of accumulated cases and expediting the delivery of criminal justice.
Based on the recommendation of the Law Commission, the new chapter on plea bargaining making plea bargaining in cases of offences punishable with imprisonment upto seven years has been included in Crl.R.C and the same has come into effect from 05.07.2006. A consideration of Chapter XXI-A dealing with plea bargaining will show that certain procedure prescribed for plea bargaining under Sections 265-A to 265-L of Cr.P.C are to be complied to make it a valid plea bargaining. As per Section 265-A, the plea bargaining shall be available to the accused charged of any offence other than offences punishable with death or imprisonment or for life or of an imprisonment for a term exceeding seven years. Section 265-B contemplates an application for plea bargaining to be filed by the accused which shall contain a brief description of the case relating to which such application is filed, including the offence to which the case relates and shall be accompanied by an affidavit sworn by the accused stating therein that he has voluntarily preferred, after understanding the nature and extent of the punishment provided under the law for the offence, the plea bargaining in his case and that he has not previously been convicted by a court in a case in which he had been charged with the same offence. Sub-clause 4(a) is to the effect that if the court is satisfied with the voluntary nature of the application, then it shall provide time for working out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case which may include giving to the victim by the accused compensation and other expenses. Section 265-C prescribes the procedure to be followed by the court in working out a mutually satisfactory disposition. Section 265-D deals with the preparation of the report by the court as to the arrival of a mutually satisfactory disposition or failure of the same. Section 265-E prescribes the procedure to be followed in disposing of the cases when a satisfactory disposition of the case is worked out. Section 265-F deals with the pronouncement of judgment in terms of such mutually satisfactory disposition. Section 265-G says that no appeal shall lie against such judgment. Section 265-H deals with the powers of the court in plea bargaining. Section 265-I makes Section 428 applicable to the sentence awarded on plea bargaining. Section 265-J contains a non obstante clause that the provisions of the chapter shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other provisions of the Code and nothing in such other provisions shall be construed to contain the meaning of any provision of chapter XXI-A. Section 265-K says that the statements or facts stated by the accused in an application for plea bargaining shall not be used for any other purpose except for the purpose of the chapter. Section 265-L makes the chapter not applicable in case of any juvenile or child as defined in Section 2(k) of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.
Unless the aforesaid procedure contemplated in Chapter XXI-A is followed the same cannot be a valid disposal on plea bargaining. Even though 'plea bargaining' is available after the introduction of the said amendment is available, in cases of offences which are not punishable either with death or with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment for a term exceeding seven years, the chapter contemplates a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case which may also include giving compensation to victim and other expenses. The same cannot be done without involving the victim in the process of arriving at such settlement.
The provisions also mandate the court to give accused the benefit of Probation of Offenders Act where so ever it is permissible. Thus, if an admonition or a supervisory order is passed under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958, then Section 12 of the said Act provides that it shall not cast any stigma on the offender. Section 12 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 provides that a person found guilty of an offence and dealt with under section 3 or 4 of the said Act, shall not suffer any disqualification attached to the conviction. Thus, the Government employees who are released on probation under the Probation of offenders Act are saved from the disqualification which is attached to conviction. See Sh. Charan Singh Vs. M.C.D. (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 18725/2005) decided on 05/10/2006.
Concept of Plea Bargaining should be encouraged and the litigant should be encouraged to avail the remedy of plea bargaining to settle the pending cases. For the successful implementation of plea bargaining and to achieve its objectives, the role of judiciary and the bar is very important. The member of the bar should encourage the litigant to opt for the plea bargaining rather than to treat the plea bargaining a threat to their profession. With the changing world scenario where all the countries are shifting to ADR from the traditional litigation process which is lengthy as well as complex, the plea bargaining may be one of the best recourse as an ADR mechanism to meet the challenges of disposal of pending cases.