Georgia on October 1 introduced jury trials in a move designed to boost public confidence in the judicial system and burnish the country’s democratization image.
Under revisions to the criminal code, cases of aggravated homicide heard in Tbilisi are eligible to be decided by juries. If the experience proves successful over the next four years, other criminal offenses and civil law cases would become eligible for jury trials. The convening of jury trials would also spread beyond the capital to Georgia’s regions.
It may be months before a Georgian jury renders a verdict. The revised criminal code stipulates that a judge-led trial can still be selected for aggravated homicide cases instead of a jury trial, if both the defense and prosecution prefer that format, according to Supreme Court Deputy Justice Zaza Meishvili.
The prevailing attitude governing the introduction of jury trials appears to be that patience offers the best chance for success. Not “more than a dozen, at most” jury trials are expected in the coming year, said Gregory E. Mize, a retired Washington, DC judge who has worked with Georgian judges to prepare for the change.
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Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.