The newly launched jury trial system in Georgia is set to expand exponentially and the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) is meeting the challenge of educating the populace on their new rights and obligations through a Street law-like program. This is a method of teaching law to the public – particularly children – using interactive techniques such as role play, hypotheticals and the Socratic Method. For years, Tbilisi State University (TSU) has run a Street Law-like Clinic for Masters students; allowing them the unique opportunity to find out how it feels to be on the other side of the classroom. Each semester TSU clinic students teach a practical law course one hour a week for 15 weeks, at Tbilisi high schools. To date, lessons have covered such topics as human rights, conflict resolution, family law, criminal law and procedures and juvenile justice. As of October 2015, one new course can be added to the list: jury trials.
The new module, entitled “Duties of Perspective Jurors” garnered unprecedented interest from its outset, attracting 95 law students to sign up for the training of trainers (TOT) program. In the TOT, these students learned about the laws regarding jury trials and their importance to the rule of law and justice. At the same time, they were taught how to present this information to high school students in an engaging and interactive manner.
During the fall semester 800 high school students from 29 schools in Tbilisi had an opportunity to get their first look at the jury trial system. By participating in small mock jury selection exercises, the high school students learned about the role of judges, parties (prosecutors and defense lawyers) in the jury trials and duties of perspective jurors. During these trainings, 1,000 copies of ABA ROLI’s jury trial mini-manual were passed out.
First year Master’s student, Rusudan Basheleishvili, was assigned to conduct classes at high school #32 in Tbilisi. She reported that before the course began, many of her students had no idea that jury trials even existed in the Georgian legal system.
Those who had heard about jury system did not really know how it worked. “I thought that only lawyers would be summoned as jurors” said Giorgi Gedeshuri, a 9th year high school student. At the end of the course, however, Ms. Basheleishvili noted that much of that had changed. Her students not only understood the mechanism of jury trials, but they recognized their importance.
The high school students were not the only ones who benefitted. Speaking of the programs impact on the law student trainers, Ms. Basheleishvili noted, “As future lawyers we will never be able to participate in jury trials as jurors. This program helped us to see jury trials from a different angle -- more importantly, it helped high school students understand their roles and responsibilities as perspective jurors”.
To learn more about our work in Georgia, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].