New Delhi: Hailed as the panacea for our overburdened criminal justice system, plea bargaining was introduced by law in 2005.
Plea bargaining means that in the pre-trial stage, upon agreement by the victim, accused and the prosecution, the accused pleads guilty, typically in exchange for a lenient sentence.
In spite of government and courts favouring plea bargaining only 0.45% of cases under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) were disposed after plea bargaining in 2015, according to data by National Crime Records Bureau.
Out of 10,502,256 cases under IPC disposed by the courts, plea bargaining took place in a mere 4,816 cases.
Plea bargaining cannot be availed in all cases. Indian courts were opposed to the concept before the introduction of criminal law in 2006 allowing plea bargain in cases concerning criminal offences for which the maximum sentence is up to seven years of imprisonment. However, plea bargain cannot be introduced in socio-economic offences and crimes related to women and children. The law also states that once a court passes an order based on plea bargaining, the ruling cannot be appealed against in a higher court.
“These figures are definitely low. Plea bargaining goes a long way in helping parties opt out of long drawn trial. But its reach needs to be widened for the criminal justice system to start showing results," said Sidharth Luthra, senior advocate specialising in criminal law matters.
The Law Commission in its 142nd (1991), 154th (1996) and 177th (2001) report and the Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System (2001-03), suggested incorporating plea bargaining, citing examples of the concepts success in jurisdictions such as the United States of America.
The concept of plea bargaining has also its share of critics, for whom the low rate of its application is not a worry.
“People who are pushed to plea bargain are those who do not have the wherewithal to arrange for bail," said Dr. Mrinal Satish, associate professor of law at National Law University, Delhi.
“In many cases, the accused is not fully aware of the consequences of a plea bargain which is a huge problem," Satish added.