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Jury Trials Still in the Balance

By News Briefing Central Asia
The introduction of trial by jury in Kyrgyzstan could reduce the scope for corruption and political influence over criminal cases, but will not fundamentally change the country’ judicial system, according to NBCentralAsia observers.

On February 21, Justice Minister Marat Kayipov announced on that a bill which will come before parliament in March will align current legislation with constitutional amendments made in December that give accused persons the right to trial by jury.

Kayipov told NBCentralAsia that the change is in line with the constitutional principle that the people themselves represent the source of power. “This principle… will be implemented through jury trials. One might say that this will create a degree of public supervision of the judicial process,” he said.

Although trial by jury will be reserved for those accused of serious crimes and jurors will be paid, most observers believe the move will improve justice and make the courts more independent.

Tamerlan Ibraimov, director of the Centre for Political and Legal Studies, believes the new law will help stamp out political influence in court.

“Jury members won’t allow the court to make unfair decisions. If a judge [is threatened] or pressured by the authorities to influence a decision, he will be able to step down from the case by saying he must abide by the law,” he said.

Human rights activist Aziza Abdrasulova hopes the introduction of jury trials will improve protections for the rights of defendants. “They will have more of a chance to prove their innocence. The defendant’s fate will not be in the hands of one person.”

The change may also help to eradicate legal corruption, according to Sapar Orozbakov, director of the Bishkek-based Centre for Economic Analysis.

“Judges will have fewer opportunities to dismiss corruption cases without good reason,” he said.

But despite the high hopes assigned to this legal reform, prosecution service spokesman Toktogul Kakchekeev warns that success will depend on how well the law defines the jury selection process.

“The selection process should be irreproachable. Jurors should be honest, incorruptible people with a real sense of justice,” he said.

Kakchekeev said that in addition to the introduction of jury trials, the recruitment policy for judges must also be reviewed to ensure they are appointed because of their “professionalism, competence and respectability”.

Kurmanbek Osmonov, head of the Supreme Court, agreed with this view, but said he doubted the existence of juries would in itself produce fundamental change in the judicial system. “Reforms and improvements in the legal system depend of reforms in all areas of this society,” he said.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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