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Majority and minority agrees on jury trials

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, January 18
Cohabitation concerning jury trials in Georgia took place between the Georgian parliamentary majority and minority. Despite various controversies, with 103 votes no one was against the draft concerning the changes in jury trials that passed on January 16. The changes envisage that the jury trial will concern those former officials facing various charges recently.

Jury trial was introduced in Georgia in 2011; however, it only applies to cases of aggravated murder, cases of murder committed in the heat of passion and cases of rape. It also only applies to the cases heard by Tbilisi and Kutaisi city courts. Based on the current draft prepared and passed by the first reading, scale of the jury trials will be grown and will also concern Batumi City Court. The frame of the crimes will also be increased and will reflect those crimes which were committed by the former officials of the country.

The sides also agree that the process of the trial will be opened and filming will also be permitted.

According to the deputy Minister of Justice Aleksandre Baramidze, discussing the issues of the former officials by the jury will remove the questions that the process might be politically motivated.

“Various rumors are being spread as if the former officials are being pursued on political and not legal grounds. Responding to the rumors will be a fair verdict made by the jury trial,” Baramidze said.

Despite the fact that the parliamentary minority agreed with the draft, they expressed definite complaints and remarks before and during the discussion of the draft.

MP Chiora Taktakishvili emphasized that the government proposed this amendment because it failed to “bring under its control the judiciary” and the prosecution did not have enough evidence to prove charges against former officials.

Fellow MP Davit Darchiashvili does not believe that the jury trial will effectively work on the cases of the former officials. The parliament member explained that it would be better if a professional judge made a verdict concerning those cases enjoying high public interest.

“I can say that the current political environment might influence the jury members and the outcomes which will be made by them. The process of making hastened changes in the jury trial system imposes some doubts. The idea of jury court is good, however, tradition is insignificant in this regard,” Darchiashvili said.

Responding to this attitude, the deputy justice minister underscored that the current Georgian court system imposes more question marks than the jury institute might impose.

“Unfortunately, we should recognize that trust towards the Georgian court is unfavorable both inside and outside the country. The US state department had permanently criticized the Georgian court system and spoken on selective justice,” Baramidze said.

The criminal procedures code now reads that during the preliminary hearing, if the parties do not jointly reject to have jury trial, the judge sets a date for a session to select jurors. A definite article of the same code reads that if the charges brought against a defendant envisage a prison term “the case is heard by jury trial, except when a defendant intends the case to be heard without jury.”

The President of Georgia has already signed the changes which envisage that the defendant can evade the jury trial if the defending side provides enough arguments for this and in case that the court and prosecutor agree to this.

Coalition for Independent and Transparent Justice, a group uniting over thirty local non-governmental organizations, including Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Transparency International Georgia, 42 Article of Constitution and so on said in an open letter to Parliamentary Chairman Davit Usupashvili on January 16 that applying jury trials to the cases of former officials carries definite risks and will only be acceptable if defendants retain the right to say no to trials by jury.

The letter also reads that the defendant is obliged to prove his position when the persecutor can deny the position without making explanations.

“Such a situation encourages the process to be carried out by the jury,” the letter reads.

The organizations underscore that public opinion and attitudes have already been formed towards part of those criminal cases in which former high ranking officials are charged.

“Such situations impose risks that the process might be unhealthy… A defendant’s right to say no to a jury trial based on a justified motion can be viewed as a safeguard against such risk,” the group said.

Two readings of the draft are still left.