HC Deb 04 June 1981 vol 5 cc389-90W
Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Attorney-General whether he will take action to stop the practice of plea bargaining in serious criminal and murder cases.

The Attorney-General

No. The term "plea bargaining" is frequently used by those who do not understand the various possibilities which arise when a defendant expresses a willingness to plead guilty to a "lesser" offence to that with which he has been charged. In such circumstances the prosecution has the duty of deciding whether it is in the public interest that such a plea should be accepted. For example, where a defendant is charged with wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm contrary to section 18 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, for which the maximum penalty is imprisonement for life, and is charged in the alternative with assault occasioning actual bodily harm contrary to section 47 of the same Act, for which the maximum penalty is five years imprisonment, a plea to the lesser offence could be accepted, subject to the agreement of the court, if the likely sentence would be no more than five years, whatever the verdict, in the knowledge that the court would reflect the seriousness of the harm done in the sentence imposed. No question of plea bargaining arises where the charge is murder and the evidence of diminished responsibility which can be adduced by the defence and is agreed by the Crown would clearly support a verdict of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility. In such circumstances it would be wrong as a matter of course to forbid the prosecution to accept a plea to manslaughter.