Starting Wednesday, the accused in criminal cases will be able to negotiate their punishment. On Tuesday, the Home Ministry issued a notification for 'plea-bargaining'. The new arrangement will be applicable only in those criminal cases where the maximum punishment is up to seven years.
Moreover, it will not be applicable to criminal cases against women and children, social crimes like sati, crime against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and white-collar crime (including money-laundering and counterfeiting currency).
Under plea-bargaining, an accused will be entitled to a reduced sentence if he admits to the crime and agrees to compensate the victim. This will also require the consent of the victim, judge and prosecutor. The accused will have to file an application before the judge for plea-bargaining.
According to plea-bargaining provisions, an accused will not be sentenced to less than one-fourth and not more than one-third of the total punishment prescribed for the offence under the law.
Home Ministry officials claim the move will benefit about 50,000 undertrials, in addition to being used in fresh cases. They said it was being introduced primarily to reduce the pendency of cases in trial courts and the overcrowding in jails.
Plea-bargaining was part of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2005 passed by Parliament in December. Before that the matter had been referred to the standing committee which had recommended that the prosecution should be made independent of the investigating agency.
On June 23, the Home Ministry had issued a notification for the setting up of a separate Directorate of Prosecution. "We wanted to give the states some time for putting in place an independent system of prosecution before implementing plea-bargaining," said a senior ministry official.
With Tuesday's notification, a new chapter (21A) -- spelling out the plea-bargaining system in detail -- will be added to the CrPC.
The move has found support from the legal fraternity. Criminal lawyer Ramesh Gupta said it would have a direct impact on the pendency of cases and about 40 per cent litigation will come to an end. Another lawyer, Viraj Dattar, while supporting the move, said an "honest prosecution and enforcement wing was required" to ensure proper implementation of plea-bargaining.