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Jury trials to be delayed

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, September 19
On September 17, parliament discussed with its first reading, an amendment to the criminal procedure code that envisages delaying the jury trial system’s full introduction before 2016. The Ministry of Justice claims that there are multiple reasons for the temporary delay. The initiative is opposed by the United National Movement, which admits that the system will provide only benefits for the Georgian court system.

In an explanatory note of the bill, the Justice Ministry pushed forward the ‘’proof” that empowers the evidence concerning the delay. The ministry claims that the process of selecting the juries is too complicated and the Georgian courts lack the infrastructure for such trials. The government also argues that in most of the cases, verdicts delivered by jurors are “unqualified” and are not based upon evidence heard during the trial.

Commenting on the statement, minority member Giorgi Vashadze stated that the government’s claims on “unqualified” verdicts were shameful. The UNM called on the authorities to expand at least partly from October the application of jury trial by adding several, not all, criminal offenses to the limited list of crimes to which a jury trial can now be applied.

The jury trial was introduced in 2010 and the first trial by jurors was held in 2011. The jury trials are applied to aggravated murder cases. Starting from October 1, 2012 jury trials were expanded to cases of murder committed in the heat of passion. From 2012 the trials were conducted in Kutaisi as well. Through the amendments brought into the legislation in 2013, the jury trial system might be used in the cases of former officials. However, the officials can make a choice between the two options and select ordinary trials with judges. Based on the current legislation, the system should expand through the country. However, the Ministry of Justice is against such expansion in 2014.

When it comes to Tbilisi, all Tbilisi residents from 18 to 70 years old can be a member of the jury. From the beginning, 100 men are selected by randomly from the electoral register. Then, those persons who have no right to be a jury member (politician, police officer, lawyer, physiologist, psychiatrist or religious figure) will be excluded and finally 12 jury members and 2 reserves are chosen by the defence and accusatorial sides. If not a very serious reason, a selected individual must not refuse the obligation as he will be fined. Employers are also obliged to support their employees and not hinder them if they are selected.

Member of the NGO 42 Article of the Constitution Dimitri Khachidze welcomed the delay and stated that fully moving to the system would be very problematic. According to him, many people will apply to the system and the fact will cause various problems for the courts. He stated that the system should be gradually established.

However, head of the Elections and Political Research Centre, Kakha Kakhishvili, believes that the system will be a failure in Georgia, in a country that lacks strong democratic institutions. Kakhishvili told The Messenger that influencing people who live in hardship is also quite easy. Kakhishvili thinks that the government should carry out the kind of reform in the court system that will ensure empyting the system from those judges who were involved in grave violations and appoint new ones, who have successfully passed exams.