Non-governmental organizations response to plans to postpone introduction of jury trials
The Parliament of Georgia adopted a government initiated legislative proposal to amend the Criminal Procedure Code on September 18. According to the proposed amendment, the countrywide introduction of jury trials will be postponed until October 1, 2016. Currently jury trials occur only in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi city courts. The practice was to be expanded to cover the rest of the country starting on October 1, 2014.
The explanatory note of the draft law gave the following reasons for postponing jury trials by two years. The same reasons were voiced by the initiator of the draft law at committee hearings and plenary session of the Parliament:
1. Lack of budget funds allocated for the purpose of full introduction of jury trials, and organizational and financial difficulties causing inability to prepare jury trial courtrooms in first instance courts;
2. Delay in cases heard by a jury caused by complicated selection procedures as well as a lack of individuals competent in this field working in the judicial system. According to the initiator of the draft law, judicial system employees have not undergone any training related to the introduction of jury trials;
3. Lack of qualified candidates for jury selection and incompetent decisions made by the jury. Therefore, it is necessary to reform the current model of jury trials.
The arguments for postponing the introduction of this important component of the judicial reform presented to non-governmental organizations are insufficient and in most cases unreasonable. Here are some of our observations related to the proposal:
1. None of the necessary preconditions were met for the introduction of jury trials: insufficient resources were allocated from the budget, the required infrastructure was not prepared and relevant staff training was not performed. We believe that the responsibility for these failures falls on all three branches of the government (the Parliament, the government and the judiciary). At the same time, however, it is unclear why it is not possible to initiate necessary changes in the budget this year to implement this important initiative and fulfill the requirements of the Constitution. It is important to note that the Law on 2014 State Budget (program code 26 01) allocated GEL 8,800,000 to the reform of the criminal justice system, including the reform of the jury trial system;
2. According to the draft law’s explanatory note, only the Prosecutor’s Office was consulted during the drafting process of the legal amendment. The judicial authorities should have also been involved in this process. We believe that there must be a greater degree of coordination between the branches of government when dealing with initiatives of such importance. The sidelining of the judiciary in matters directly related to the execution of justice is unacceptable;
3. An alternative to a two year postponement of jury trials is the introduction of the system gradually. Unfortunately, there has been no discussion of plans or actions to implement to solve problems during Parliamentary hearings. This raises the question- why is the implementation of the system being postponed for two years? There has also been no discussion during committee hearings of how the government plans to solve the existing problems in the next two years. One of the reasons for postponing the introduction of jury trials mentioned in the explanatory note of the draft law was the existence of flaws in the current system and the need to reform it. Therefore, it is unclear why the government did not submit plans to correct these flaws to the Parliament.
4. The fact that jury trials are practiced only in certain parts of the country contradicts the principle of equality of citizens before the law. A person's right to choose whether to be tried by a jury depends not only on the severity of the crime, but also on where the case was first presented to the court. This issue may very well become a subject of discussion in the Constitutional Court.
We believe that the Parliament of Georgia should thoroughly examine the issue of the postponement of jury trials and require the government to present a concrete plan of implementation for this initiative.
Transparency International Georgia
Open Society Georgia Foundation
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Human Rights Center
Article 42 of the Constitution