An Overview of Plea Bargaining

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An acclaimed saying goes like “Justice delayed is justice denied” and it holds great importance when there is a discussion of the concept of plea bargaining. This concept of plea bargaining was not there in criminal law since its origin. Indian courts are loaded with pending cases. The number of pending cases is quite stunning but at the same time, it has been normalized by people. They have started accepting their fate and by keeping this in mind the Indian legal scholars and jurists consolidated this concept of plea bargaining in Indian Criminal law. So, in this article, we will discuss the concept of plea bargaining, its origin, permissibility and extent in the Indian justice system.

Meaning and its origin

Plea bargaining means the accused’s plea of guilty has been bargained for, and some consideration has been received for it. Plea Bargaining is an arrangement between the prosecutor and defendant whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence or arrangement to drop other charges. Earlier, when the jury system was prevalent there was no need for plea bargaining as there was no legal representation. But, in 1960 legal representation was allowed and there was a need for plea bargaining. The traces of the origin of this concept can be found in the legal history of America.

Section 265A to 265L, Chapter XXIA of the Criminal Procedure Code was added into the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2005 as it allows plea bargaining for the cases:-

  1. The maximum punishment is imprisonment for 7 years;
  2. The offenses don’t affect the socio-economic condition of the country;
  3. The offenses that are not committed against a woman or a child below 14 are excluded.

 Plea bargaining was first recommended in the Indian Criminal Justice System in the 154th Law Commission Report. It defined Plea Bargaining as an alternative method that should be introduced in Indian courts to deal with heavy arrears of criminal cases

A committee was constituted under the NDA government and it was headed by the former Chief Justice of the Karnataka and Kerala High Courts, Justice V.S.Malimath to handle the issue of the rising number of criminal cases. The Malimath Committee recommended the plea bargaining system in India. The committee said that it would facilitate the expedited disposal of criminal cases and reduce the burden of the courts. Moreover, the Malimath Committee pointed out the success of the plea bargaining system in the USA to show the importance of Plea Bargaining.

Accordingly, the draft Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2003 was introduced in the parliament and finally it became an enforceable Indian law from enforceable from July 5, 2006. It sought to reform by amending the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) and the Indian Evidence Act, 1892 in existing Criminal Justice System in the country, which is inundated with a plethora of criminal cases and overabundant delay in their disposal on the one hand and very low rate of conviction in cases involving serious crimes on the other. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2003 focused on the following key issues of the criminal justice system:-

(i) Witnesses turning hostile

(ii) Plea-bargaining

(iii) Compounding the offense under Section 498A, IPC (Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) and

(iv) Evidence of scientific experts in cases relating to fake currency notes.

At last, it introduced Chapter XXIA Section 265A to 265L and brought the concept of plea bargaining in India.

Types of Plea Bargaining

There are three types of Plea Bargaining

  1. Charge Bargaining
  2. Sentence Bargaining
  3. Fact Bargaining

Charge Bargaining

Such type of plea bargaining tends to get less serious of charges. In criminal cases it is the most basic form of plea bargaining. Here the defendant accepts the guilty for a lesser charge to consider dismissing greater charges.

Sentence Bargaining

This includes the arrangement for the defendant to plead less serious charges in exchange for dismissing one or the other or higher of the various charges.

Fact Bargaining

It is not usually applicable in the courts as it is claimed to be against the criminal justice system. This is when a defendant admits to determining certain facts to stop other facts from being present in evidence.

Thippaswamy v. the State of Karnataka

The Court held that the act of propelling and lead  the accused person to plead guilty under an assurance or promise would violate Article 21 of the Constitution of India

State of Gujarat and Anr,v. Patel Shantilal Koderlal

The Supreme Court held that plea bargaining is contrary to public policy.  Further, it is regretted by the fact that the magistrate accepted the plea of ​​the accused.  Furthermore, the Honorable Court stated the concept as a highly condemnable practice.

State of Uttar Pradesh vs Chandrika

Here the opinion of the Hon’ble Court was that the plea bargaining court could not be the basis for settlement of criminal cases.. These is to be decided on the basis of merit.  Further, the court stated that if the accused confesses to his crime, he should be given the necessary punishment by law.

In the recent Tablighi Jamaat case, many people belonging to other countries have obtained release from court cases by means of plea bargaining.


For the plea bargaining to be more effective we will have to appreciate the causes due to which the plea bargaining was unsuccessful so far. The Criminal Justice System has to be more efficient and reliable. It has to be predictable with higher rates of convictions, to allow an accused to make an informed choice of plea bargaining.

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