The Khudi Ram Bose Memorial Central Jail in Muzaffarpur looks more like a classroom these days where the prisoners are taking lessons on legal matters.
Posters, banners and leaflets are being used to make them familiar with plea bargaining, a Bihar State Legal Service Authority (BSLSA) endeavour for access to ‘justice for all’ plan, that has caught the fancy of many hardened criminals lodged there.
A host of lawyers, empanelled with the BSLSA, including Mohammad Rahman and N Srivastava, have interacted with prisoners many times to propagate the significance of plea bargaining. The prisoners have been taught how to file plea bargaining petitions, along with the affidavit, in the court where their cases are being tried.
The concept, being introduced in a Bihar jail for the first time by the BSLSA, headed by its working chairman Justice Shiv Kirti Singh, has come as a boon to those jailbirds who have had a change of heart. They can now plead guilty to the criminal charge with a recommendation of a lighter than the maximum sentence. Plea bargain will give them an opportunity to avoid sitting through a trial risking conviction on the original more serious charge.
Jail Superintendent Rupak Kumar told Hindustan Times on Wednesday that he had been burning the midnight oil to make the concept of plea bargaining a success. Legal experts, he said, had held brainstorming sessions, largely attended by jailbirds. The response, he said, had been good and the number of proposals for embracing the scheme had overwhelmed the jail authorities. He hoped that the results would be more encouraging in the days to come.
Plea bargaining was introduced in India through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2005. It is applicable only in respect to those offences for which punishment of imprisonment is upto seven years and does not apply where such offence affects the socio-economic condition of the country or has been committed against a woman or a child below the age of 14 years.
The provisions of plea bargaining, Kumar said, would bring relief to a large number of undertrials and help reduce long pendency in the courts, besides reducing congestion in jails. Undertrials lodged in the jail under various sections of 223, 224, 379, 411, 414, 323 and 504 B of the IPC come under the purview of plea bargaining, he said. The concept also had a revised provision under 436 A of the Cr PC to deduct the period of captivity. If the convicts plead guilty to the crime and agree to pay compensation to victims and family members as well as the legal expenses occurred in pursuing the cases, they could escape incarceration, Kumar added.