New „jury” trial in Ukraine – first assessments
Deutsche Welle writes that over 6 months ago (a form of) trial by jury was introduced. The lawyers they have spoken with do not believe there are any grounds for believing that such a court increases defendants’ chances of acquittal (which have fallen over the last three years to a record low in 2012 of 0.17% – translator).
The Criminal Procedure Code which came into force in November 2012 established a “Ukrainian jury” which is closer to the old Soviet system of people’s assessors, than to a western jury. Two professional judges and three “jurors” rule jointly through a majority of votes. This system can be applied at the wish of the defendant and only if grave crimes are involved, for example, envisaging life imprisonment.
There are lists of such “jurors” in each local court however according to information from the State Judicial Administration since the CPC came into force there have only been 6 court hearings involving such “juries”: two in the Luhansk oblast, and one each in the Mykolaiv, Rivne and Khmelnytski oblasts and in the Crimea.
The State Judicial Administration was silent on the subject, but according to the media not one verdict was in favour of the defendant.
Vitaly Pogosyan, an advocate from Dnipropetrovsk has been observing the work of such a “jury” over recent months. His client is accused of murdering somebody in 2009. A first court sentenced him to 12.5 years but that sentence was revoked at higher level and a retrial called. Pogosyan says that his client denies any guilt and the evidence is dubious. Under such circumstances an acquittal is possible, but a majority is needed, i.e. three of the five members of the “jury”. He is counting on his address to the court since he has the impression that a present the “jury members” don’t fully understand what the case is about. They have the right to ask questions, if the presiding judge permits, yet have not thus far asked any.
Hennadiy Tokarev, lawyer for the Kharkiv Human Rights Group says that any hope of an acquittal from such a court is purely theoretical. He points out that the new CPC does not allow for these jury members to hold hearings and take decisions themselves, separately from the professional judges. “Even if one of them has a different opinion, it’s unlikely he or she will be able to withstand the pressure of arguments from an experienced judge”.
Pogosyan says that he would find it easier to appeal to the “jurors” if he had any idea who they were, what their education was, where they work, etc. No information is made available, however, only a list of names, and under the Personal Data Protection Act he cannot obtain more information. The lists are approved by local councils, with no information given about the criteria for their choice.
Neither advocates nor defendants have the right to receive any information about jurors, before an automated system chooses the jurors at the beginning of the court hearing. Tokarev points out that there are thus no guarantees that specific jurors will carry out their functions properly. “We don’t in fact have a trial by jury, just the name”.
From the report on the Deutsche Welle Ukrainian Service