Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary disagrees with the initiative limiting the scope of the jury trial
A legislative initiative on amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) sponsored by parliamentary majority MPs Manana Kobakhidze, Davit Saganelidze, Gedevan Popkhadze, Zviad Kvachantiradze and Paata Kiknavelidze was registered at the Parliament of Georgia. The initiative proposes voiding article 330.31 of the CPC. If the amendment is adopted, the jury will no longer hear the criminal cases of the current or past officials enumerated in the Article 2 of the Law on Conflict of Interests and Corruption in the Civil Service, and other persons who are charged along with the officials.
There are several problems with this initiative:
1. The gradual and deliberate depreciation of trial by jury
Introduction of trial by jury in Georgia was supported by partner states and organizations. However, the new government has not managed to fully activate it. Instead, full activation of the trial by jury was postponed by territorial limitation (On September 18, 2014 the Parliament of Georgia postponed the full activation of jury trial on entire territory of Georgia from 2014 to October 1, 2016). This is discriminatory to the persons whose cases are not heard in Tbilisi and Kutaisi Courts. The proposed amendment further reduces the scope of jury trial.
2. Using unverified statistics in the argumentation of the draft
According to the explanatory note of the draft bill, the reasons for the initiative are practical problems in the jury selection procedure, undue protraction of cases and the large number of cases being heard by the jury. However, the authors of the draft do not cite specific data. Further it is not explained how the problems of jury selection are overcome in the cases in which former of current officials are not a party. If the problem is also relevant for these cases, then it is even more unclear, why the MPs are only targeting one specific group in their initiative.
We think that the authors’ reasoning and citing the Constitutional Court’s November 13, 2014 decision as an argument for the rising number of cases is unjustified. There is no statistical data showing that the number of jury cases is rising due to the high number of cases involving former or current officials. According to the information available to us, jury has not heard a single case involving former or current officials. Accordingly, the proposed amendment cannot solve the problem of the high number of cases nor can it solve the practical problems associated with the jury selection. Citing the Constitutional Court decision that highlights the importance of trial by jury is unjustified.
3. Unsubstantiated arguments regarding the financial resources needed for full activation of jury trial
State budget allocates several million GEL for the reform of trial by jury, annually. According to the 2014 budget, 8.8 million GEL was allocated for the purposes of criminal justice reform, including the reform of trial by jury. The 2015 budget allocates 9 million GEL (budgetary code 26 01). Despite this, for more than two years, activation of trial by jury has not been made possible and it seems that the Parliament does not ensure effective oversight of the budgetary spending on justice system, including the reform of the trial by jury.
4. Parliament’s inconsistency regarding the same norms
It must be noted that substantiation of the same norm by the Parliament was different in 2013 and 2015. The Parliament adopted the amendments in the CPC that extended the scope of trial by jury to cover crimes committed by former or current officials on January 18, 2013. According to the explanatory note, “high public interest in high profile cases and the Court verdicts, strengthening the institution of the jury trial and greater public involvement in reaching the verdicts on high profile criminal cases” was the reasoning for it.
Given that neither has the institution of trial by jury been strengthened nor has the high public interest towards high profile cases and their verdicts dampened, it is unclear why did the MPs who in 2013 voted for the changes are now initiating amendments that would prohibit the involvement of jury and, hence, public involvement in the criminal cases of former or current officials. It is important that the legislators have a systemic vision of problems and changes and their initiatives are not shaped by specific situations and environments, as may be the case in the current instance.
Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary calls on the members of Georgian Parliament to put forward additional reasoning and information regarding this initiative and systemically consider the discussion of jury mandate. Diminishing the scope of jury should not be decided by political motivation and legal tastes on liking or disliking trial by jury.