The USAID New Justice Program organized for its Ukrainian partners and, together with the Group of Independent Lawyers (Georgia), held a joint webinar discussion on Jury Trial in Georgia: Legislative Framework and Lessons Learnt on March 25, 2021.
The Georgian Group of Independent Layers has been in search of options for judicial reform in Georgia. To this end, it reviews experience and makes a comparative analysis of judicial reforms in transitional democracies.
Ukrainian participants included specialists who are interested and engaged in reforming the current jury trial model: Olexandr Banchuk, Deputy Minister of Justice, along with his colleagues; Iryna Volosko, Chief Judge of Halytsky District Court in Lviv; Hanna Fazikosh, Chief Judge of the Appellate Court in Zakarpattya region; attorneys; research fellows from Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University; Thomas Flanagan, Senior Advisor on Legal Reform, EU Advisory Mission in Ukraine.
Ukraine has intensified law-making activities aimed at implementing the classic jury trial to consider criminal cases as the current model of citizens’ participation in the adjudication of justice is not a jury trial in the meaning of Article 124 of the Ukrainian Constitution. Instead, it is inherited from the soviet period model of people’s assessors and used when considering a limited category of civil and criminal cases. For instance, in first instance courts, criminal cases where the accused is punishable by a life-time sentence may go to jury trial solely at the accused’s request. Such jury trial involves two professional judges and three jurors. Civil cases of certain categories, such as limiting or resuming the civil legal competence of an individual or adjudging his/her incompetent, adopting a child, etc., are considered by one judge and two jurors. However, the current legislation fails to define properly the accused’s right to the jury trial. The category of cases that may go to the jury trial is too narrow. And the procedure for engaging citizens in the justice adjudication process needs enhancing.
I am sure that having heard our Georgian colleagues about their experience of operating the classic jury trial model during the last ten years we will be able to enhance Ukrainian draft laws on the jury trial which are currently registered with the Parliament,” mentioned Nataliya Petrova, the USAID New Justice Program Deputy Chief of Party, at the beginning of the meeting.
According to the Georgian counterparts – judges, prosecutors, attorneys, and other legal professionals – Georgia introduced the classic jury trial in 2010 mostly to make trials fairer, raise the public trust in the judiciary, and increase the percentage of acquitting judgments, which was below one percent at that time. Since that time, the institute of jury trials gradually expanded in its territorial and subject-matter jurisdictions. Overall, Georgian jurors considered 50 criminal cases against the 63 accused. Out of them, 45 got guilty verdicts and 18 got non-guilty verdicts. In so doing, not a single judgment was reversed by a court of appeal.
Kakha Tsikarishvili, the representative of the Group of Independent Lawyers, told in his presentation about categories of criminal cases falling under the competence of the jury trial in Georgia, voir dire, jurors’ rights and responsibilities, specifics of the jury trial in the first instance court, and grounds for appellate reviews of judgments.
The participants discussed the importance of optimizing voir dire (in view of the Georgian experience showing how time and resource consuming this process is); a need for additional training of judges, attorneys, and prosecutors in working with jurors; and a need in developing and conducting public education campaigns to raise the public awareness of the juror’s role in the adjudication of justice.
Nata Tsnoriashvili, Staff Attorney, Department of Justice, US Embassy in Tbilisi, talked about the production of a special film and series of infomercials which were broadcast on Georgian TV in the social advertising format to encourage people to participate in jury selection and improve their understanding of the jury trial importance.
In the conclusion, Georgian colleagues highlighted the positive impact of the jury trial on the public confidence in the judiciary and the quality of prosecutors’ and attorneys’ work who had to develop their rhetoric and public presentation skills to be able to convince jurors in the jurors being guilty or not guilty. The participants agreed to continue sharing experiences and organize joint events in the future for the purpose of broader coverage of the classic jury trial model topic.