Parliament discussed on September 17 with its first reading amendment to the criminal procedure code delaying for two years expanding now limited application of jury trial system.
Jury trial was introduced in 2010 and the first trial by jurors was held in 2011. According to the law jury trials, after its full enforcement, should apply to all the criminal offences, which carry imprisonment as punishment. But at the first stage, according to the law, it was applied only to aggravated murder cases and only in Tbilisi. Starting from October 1, 2012 jury trial was expanded to cases of murder, committed in the heat of passion. Also starting from October 1, 2012 the system was expanded to Georgia’s second largest city of Kutaisi where cases of aggregated murder can be heard by jurors. So far jury trials were held in eight cases.
In January, 2013 the Parliament amended the law and further expanded application of jury trial system to the cases in which former or incumbent officials face criminal charges; along with Tbilisi and Kutaisi, such cases can also be heard by jurors in Batumi. A defendant has the right to refuse trial by jurors.
Full application of the jury trials – to all the criminal offenses carrying imprisonment, is envisaged from October 1, 2014, according to the existing law, which also entails application of this system not only in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi, but throughout the country.
The government-proposed bill offers to postpone the full application of the system till October 1, 2016.
In an explanatory note of the bill, drafted by the Justice Ministry, government cites number of reasons behind the proposal. It says that trials by jurors, in particular “complicated” process of selection of jurors, “unreasonably protracts” trials. It also says that there is no necessary infrastructure in court buildings across the country to handle jury 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 trial.
“It is shameful when the government writes in an explanatory note that decisions are unqualified,” UNM MP Giorgi Vashadze said during the debates in the parliament on September 17. “Prosecutors are not qualified.”
Some lawmakers from the UNM parliamentary minority group called on the authorities to expand at least partly from October application of jury trial by adding several, not all, criminal offenses to the limited list of crimes to which jury trial can now be applied.