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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
India introduces plea bargaining
Tihar jail in Delhi
Tens of thousands of Indians are in jail awaiting trial
The Indian government has introduced the concept of plea bargaining in a landmark step that many believe will help reform its legal system.

Under the move an accused in a criminal case will be able to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence.

The move has been welcomed by the country's legal community who say it will go a long way in reducing pressure on the courts.

Officials say it will bring relief to tens of thousands of prisoners.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says India has a notoriously slow legal system under which prisoners can spend several years in jail without being tried.

It's a progressive piece of legislation - it will result in the speedy disposal of a lot of cases
Surat Singh, criminal lawyer

Earlier this year, a man was freed after spending nearly 40 years in jail without facing a trial because the police had lost his case papers.

But now, in a radical move to reform the system, an accused in a criminal case can hope to reduce his sentence by pleading guilty and paying compensation if required.

The accused will have to file for a plea bargain before his trial begins and it will be accepted if mutually accepted to both the prosecution and defence, and as long as the court is convinced that the plea is made voluntarily.

Lawyers say that is important for the court to draw a distinction between a voluntary confession and one made under pressure.

Human rights experts allege that many confessions in Indian cases are made under duress from the police.

Radical move

The move has been announced by the government as part of a process to reform the country's archaic criminal code with many of its laws dating back to colonial times.

The government believes that plea bargaining will affect more than 50,000 prisoners who are currently in jail.

Lawyers say the move was long overdue.

"It as a progressive piece of legislation and will lead to speedy disposal of a lot of cases and ease pressure on trial courts," criminal lawyer Surat Singh told the BBC.

At the moment, India has 10 judges for every million people because of which the average length of a trial is about 15 years.

However, the move will only be applied to crimes which attract a maximum sentence of seven years and does not cover more serious felonies such as murder or crimes against women and children.

"It is a good beginning but in the future it should be extended to cover those crimes as well," Mr Singh says.

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