Trading Justice for Efficiency: Plea Bargaining Before International Tribunals


After initially rejecting plea bargaining as incompatible with their unique mandate, the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals are increasingly using plea bargaining as a means to manage their expanding caseloads. At first they employed only 'sentence bargaining,' but recently, in Plavsic, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia permitted 'charge bargaining'- agreeing to drop the charge of genocide and to issue a relatively lenient sentence in return for the defendant's guilty plea on one count of persecution, a crime against humanity. This article examines the costs and benefits of the use of charge bargaining by international tribunals. First, it shows that charge bargaining may violate the spirit, though not the letter, of the international duty to prosecute and issue proportionate sentences for certain international crimes. Next, it reveals that charge bargaining is not a functional necessity for the international tribunals. Finally, it demonstrates that charge bargaining distorts the historic record generated by the Tribunal. Nonetheless it concludes that charge bargaining is likely here to stay and offers recommendations for making charge bargaining more compatible with the unique functions of international justice.


Plea -Bargaining

Publication Date


Document Type


Place of Original Publication

Journal of International Criminal Justice

Publication Information

2 Journal of International Criminal Justice 1070 (2004)

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COinS Michael P. Scharf Faculty Bio