More than 40 law students from four Armenian universities took part in a mock jury trial competition the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) organized in April. Held in Yerevan, the competition allowed the students to practice skills they learned in ABA ROLI-offered practical skills classes.
Students from the regional universities of Gyumri, Vanadzor, Ijevan and Goris assumed the roles of the defense and prosecution, while students from Yerevan State University played the roles of jurors and witnesses. The defense won the case.
In February, competition participants attended a preparatory training led by Garen Nazarian, an ABA ROLI criminal law specialist. The training introduced the students to the jury trial system, a new concept in Armenia. It addressed procedural issues, such as the voir dire process—the process of questioning prospective jurors to challenge and exclude those who can be biased. ABA ROLI also provided the students with supplementary materials, including a guide on jury selection and deliberation processes, a competition timeline and instructions for the jury to be read by the judge.
During the competition, participants got to show their practical skills, including on the jury selection process. Six prospective jurors were dismissed, leaving 12 to hear the case and return a verdict. Parandzem Alaverdyan from Syunik Institute, who played the role of a defense advocate during the competition, said that both the training and the competition will help enhance the students’ legal careers. “We received practical training related to every step of the trial process,” he said, “exceptionally noteworthy were the use of the jury trial system, the opening statement from the defense advocate and the skills I learned regarding direct- and cross-examination of witnesses.”
Participants also said that the competition spurred debates in their universities about jury trials and whether they could work in the Armenian context. While Armenia does not have jury trials, there has been increasing interest in the country in adopting the system to combat the lack of judicial independence. To help advance the discussion, in February 2014, ABA ROLI produced a documentary on the possibility of adopting the jury trial system in Armenia. A recent government concept paper on constitutional reforms contains a clause that, for the first time since 2005, provides the legal possibility of adopting jury trials.
ABA ROLI’s work to support criminal law reform in Armenia is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.
To learn more about our work in Armenia, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org