GEO

Refreshing Georgia’s Courts - Trial by Jury: More democracy or a face-lift for the judiciary?

12 January, 2010

In Georgia the judiciary has traditionally been viewed as one of the most corrupt institutions, best avoided at any opportunity. Hence the need for judicial reform has always ranked high on the government’s agenda, from the Shevardnadze era to the present. Public distrust of the judiciary has become a sort of tradition. After decades of Soviet rule and its rubber stamp judiciary, the initial years of independence that threw the country into chaos and civil war did little to reinforce trust in the courts or judges. While judicial reforms have been ongoing since the mid 1990s, much progress has yet to be made. Above all, the Georgian public has yet to be convinced that judges are indeed immune from special interests and influence and can justly apply the law. As a recent survey of Georgian voters suggests, the public believes that the judiciary is the second most important sphere (after the economy) in need of reform. Twenty-two percent of those surveyed ranked the judiciary as the single most important reform priority, 16% and 15% - as second and third priority respectively. The same study conducted in 2006 also ranked the judiciary as second most in need of reform, following the economy. In the 2006 study 16% ranked it as the most important reform priority and 17% and 14%, respectively, as a second and third priority. The courts also feature towards the bottom of the institutional trust list, with only 23% having a favourable view of this institution, opposed to a 64% unfavourable attitude in 2007. Public trust has thus further deteriorated since last year, when 34% held a favourable view and 50%-unfavourable. European collaboration on judicial reform through EUJUST-Themis has been ongoing since the very beginning of the reforms. And the current framework for EU-Georgian relations, the ENP AP, is quite attentive to reform needs in this sphere as well. Priority Area 1 is devoted to actions that will strengthen the rule of law. Specifically, the Georgian authorities are to reform “the whole judicial system in line with European standards, notably through the implementation of the reform strategy for the criminal justice system.” This report looks at one aspect of the draft Code of Criminal Procedure, the introduction of trial by jury. Following a brief review of the legacy of previous reforms and current circumstances, the report examines the proposed draft (already awaiting its second hearing in Parliament) and explores competing views on the subject of jury introduction within the legal community.