What is happening?
The trials of Lazare Grigoriadis and Tornike Akopashvili, charged with violence against the police and damage to property during the rallies against the “foreign agent” laws on March 7 and 8, are ongoing. Their supporters and some parties say they have no confidence in the independence of the courts and say the trials by jury would be fairer. There is even a petition created to this end.
So, can the jury try these cases?
No, according to the legislation currently in force, these cases can not be tried by a jury.
Why is that the case?
The Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia, in Article 226, specifies the articles of the Criminal Code, where the defendant may request a trial by jury at the pre-trial stage. These extend to particularly grave criminal charges: premeditated murder, premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances, premeditated grievous bodily harm, violence, trafficking in human organs, unlawful deprivation of liberty, trafficking in human beings, trafficking in minors and production, and import or manufacture of products dangerous to human life and health.
Grigoriadis and Akopashvili are charged under Article 353′.2 (assaulting a policeman and harming his health) and Article 187.2 (damaging the property of another person), which are not listed in the Criminal Code as the charges that the juries may try.
Is there a way to change that?
For that, the Article 226 of the Criminal Procedure Code would need to be amended. Such an amendment will have to be voted on by the Parliament. The Government of Georgia, a member of Parliament, a committee, a faction, the supreme representative bodies of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia and the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, and at least 25,000 voters have the right to initiate legislation.
On April 11, MP Iago Khvichia submitted an initiative to extend the list of offenses under Article 226 by adding Article 353. This proposal has not yet cleared the relevant committee.
What is a jury trial?
The jury is one of the world’s oldest institutions of public participation in justice. Supporters of the institution believe that it is the strongest guarantee of individual protection against state power. Opponents point to the unprofessionalism of jurors, the slowness and inflexibility of the process, as well as the high cost to the state.
When did Georgia allow jury trials?
Georgia legislated jury trials in serious criminal offenses on October 1, 2010. Today, jury courts operate in the city courts of Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, and Rustavi and in the district courts of Zugdidi, Telavi, and Gori.
This is not the first time Georgia experimented with juries: the law on the “Introduction of Jury Trials” was adopted by the government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1919.
How does the jury work?
For each criminal case, the judge examining the case randomly draws up a list of candidates for the jury, which is composed of a maximum of 300 individuals. The jurors shall be:
- Over the age of 18 and registered in the database of the Civil Registry of Georgia;
- Understanding the state language of criminal procedure;
- Living in the proximity of the district/city court which is holding the jury trial;
- Free of physical or mental limitations that would prevent her/him from performing the duties of a juror.
Twelve main jurors and two alternates are chosen in consultation of the sides to the trial, to judge the case. The jury hears the evidence, deliberates, and takes its decision as to whether a defendant is innocent or guilty. Accordingly, the verdict may be that of an acquittal or a conviction.
Why are there calls for cases to be tried by juries?
The latest IRI survey shows that 46% of the public do not trust the judiciary, and 16% respond saying they don’t know, or refuse to answer the question.
Since the trust in the judicial system is low, some activists come to the conclusion that trying cases of high public interest, especially when there is a suspicion of political motivation by jury, may increase the credibility of the process. Juries are also seen as a means to reduce the political influence on the court. Public participation in the trial can neutralize the feeling that the state is mobilized against the accused, who has little chance of proving his innocence in a fair trial.
The European Court of Human Rights has stated that the independence of the judiciary should be assessed, inter alia, in the light of the manner in which its members are appointed and their term of office, the existence of mechanisms to protect the judiciary from external pressure, and the extent to which the judiciary is perceived to be independent. All of these criteria have been an issue of concern highlighted by multiple reports and assessments, including by local CSOs. Recently, four Georgian judiciary members have been placed under visa restrictions by the U.S. State Department for suspicion of large-scale corruption.
The material was prepared by Nana Chanturia (Civil.ge)
This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian)