Parliament passed with its second and final third reading on January 18 Justice Ministry-proposed amendments to the criminal procedures code envisaging applying jury trials to the cases in which former officials face criminal charges started from February 1.
Jury trial was introduced in Georgia in late 2011, but currently it only applies to cases of aggravated murder and cases of murder committed in the heat of passion, as well as in cases of rape. It only applies to the cases heard by Tbilisi and Kutaisi city courts. So far jury trials were held only in three cases.
According to the legislative amendments, jury trials will be applied to the cases of those persons, who hold or held official posts; as well as to those defendants who have never been officials, but are charged into those same cases in which officials were involved.
UNM lawmakers also supported the amendment after some of their proposals were reflected in the bill, among them to make jury trials applicable together with Tbilisi and Kutaisi in Batumi as well as and to ease media restrictions on such trials; the courts should provide video and audio recording of such trials and media will be able to film proceedings, including to provide live broadcast from such trials; filming of jurors, however, will be banned.
This media-related regulation, according to the amendment, has to go into force from March 1 instead of February 1 when the rest of the provisions of the same amendments are scheduled to be enforced. Reason behind this one month delay is that in order to enforce this media-related clause amendments should also be made in other laws. Such amendments are already initiated by the Justice Ministry as part of judicial council reform package, which was already passed with the first reading by the Parliament, but discussions are temporarily suspended now because of number of controversies. The government, however, expects approval of this package by March.
Media restrictions in courtrooms were imposed by the previous government in 2007 banning filming and making audio recordings of the court proceedings, but exceptions can be made upon presiding judge’s decision. Davit Usupashvili, the Parliamentary Chairman, said on January 18 that a verbal agreement had been achieved with the judicially that judges would allow filming of court proceedings into high-profile cases of former officials even before March 1.
During the discussion of the amendment at the parliamentary session on January 18 UNM lawmakers again raised the issue of defendant’s right to have freedom in choosing whether to have jury or trial by judges. The government reportedly has been mulling a separate legislative amendment that would give prosecution instead of defendant to have final say in choosing whether to have jury trial or not. No such proposal, however, has been initiated in the Parliament yet.
Parliamentary Chairman Davit Usupashvili said that this issue was not part of the amendment which was discussed by the Parliament on January 18 and lawmakers would discuss it when and if such proposal is initiated.