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The Impact Of Formalising Plea Bargaining On Justice And Equality In The English Legal System

4139 words - 17 pages

The Impact of Formalising Plea Bargaining on Justice and Equality in the English Legal System

Before discussing plea bargaining it is perhaps paramount to define
what is meant by the expression. Plea bargaining refers to ‘the
exchange of a guilty plea for a reduced charge or some hope of a
reduced sentence.’[1] In other words it is an agreement between the
prosecution and the defence by which the accused changes his plea from
not guilty to guilty in return for an offer by the prosecution or when
the judge has informally let it be known that he will minimize the
sentence if the accused pleads guilty. This essay will examine the
history of plea bargaining in the English legal system, the current
situation, compare our system to that in the United States of America
and consider the impact of a formal system of plea bargaining on our
legal system, justice and equality.

Before the twentieth century, the vast majority of criminal cases in
Anglo-American jurisdictions were disposed of by jury rather than by
guilty plea. Guilty pleas were considered ill-advised, and empirical
studies focusing on particular jurisdictions indicate that guilty
pleas and plea bargaining in both the United States and the United
Kingdom were relatively rare until the latter half of the nineteenth
century.[2] During the course of the eighteenth century, English
criminal procedure underwent a transformation from a predominately
non-adversarial system to an identifiably adversarial one. The
introduction of these adversarial features, while providing necessary
safeguards for defendants’ rights, at the same time greatly lengthened
and complicated the previous summary jury proceedings. With more
issues of law raised, more expert witnesses testifying, and more
cross-examination, jury trials became time-consuming, complex events
dominated by professional advocates. As trials became more complex,
the lawyers who were beginning to dominate them developed a more
practical alternative for case disposition and that alternative was
plea bargaining.[3]

Although the adversary system originated in England, English
procedures are now considerably less adversarial than American
procedures, that is, English procedures are simpler, straightforward
and more efficient. English procedures provide more information to
the parties and to the court. Unlike most American jurisdictions,
English law requires defendants to disclose before trial the nature of
their defences and the matters on which the defence intends to join
issue with the prosecution. As a result of English trial proceedings
being more efficient than American procedures, there is less plea
bargaining in England than in the United States. The system of plea
bargaining is known to be commonly used in the United States but it
has always been thought to be used only...

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