Legal Profession Reform
The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) works to strengthen the capacity of Georgian legal professionals and institutions to uphold the right to due process and to increase access to justice within the new adversarial system. ABA ROLI’s legal profession reform initiatives include a range of trainings that relate to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and trial skills that build the capacity of criminal defense attorneys to provide effective counsel to Georgian citizens. In 2015, ABA ROLI is conducting additional trainings geared towards building the capacity of the defense attorneys, improving high school and law students’ awareness of the jury trial system and teaching journalists how to more accurately report on criminal cases.
Publishing Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) commentaries: With the release of the 2010 CPC, years of disagreement among defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges followed. In 2014, ABA ROLI launched a comprehensive and ambitious project to help these three groups agree on uniform interpretations of the CPC’s provisions. In fall 2015, after over a year’s worth of meetings and drafting, ABA ROLI held a special event to launch the final CPC commentaries. We published and distributed 600 hard copies of the commentaries in addition to uploading an electronic copy onto the Online Learning Platform for an even wider audience.
Training on plea bargaining in the European Court of Human Rights: The plea bargaining system was introduced in the Georgian legal system in 2004 during a period of pervasive criminality and corruption. The use of plea bargaining was offered as an urgent antidote to those systemic problems. Plea bargaining implies a waiver of certain procedural rights in exchange for a more lenient sentence and an expedited trial. Nevertheless, the most substantive guarantees of a fair trial must be retained in line with Georgia’s international obligations—specifically under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In July 2014, some amendments were made to the CPC regarding the plea bargaining system, giving judges more authority to oversee the agreements and expanding the victim’s involvement. As these amendments remain largely unknown to criminal defense attorneys, ABA ROLI is developing and implementing a European Court of Human Rights-specific plea bargaining training program with corresponding manuals to distribute both in print and online.
Providing legal writing trainings: In the context of an extradition case, legal writing takes on a heightened importance. Much of the decision-making is based on written submissions, and oral advocacy often takes a back seat to a well-composed motion or brief. The logical organization, emotional tone and style of language used in a piece of writing can strongly enhance or detract from a practitioner’s ability to convey his or her argument. To provide Georgian defense attorneys with these specific writing skills, ABA ROLI is developing and implementing a training program with corresponding manuals to distribute as well as publish online.
Conducting study tours to the National Forensic Bureau: Since before ABA ROLI developed its first forensics training in 2010, defense attorneys have been requesting more trainings focused on forensics. Criminal cases can turn on the smallest shred of forensic evidence found at the crime scene—and as more prosecutors use forensic evidence in their cases, more defense attorneys realize the value of having even a basic understanding of the different manifestations of forensic science. ABA ROLI is partnering with the National Forensic Bureau to bring defense attorneys on study tours of the forensic facility to afford the lawyers basic understanding of the various fields of forensic science.
Holding mock jury selections: In Georgia, the jury-selection process—which should normally not take more than two weeks—has taken as long as five months. Responding to the legal community’s request for assistance, ABA ROLI conducts mock jury selections, allowing judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys to hone their jury-selection skills.
Training journalists: Covering courts is an important task for the news media to fulfill its watchdog function and to be the conduit of information to the general public. To help journalists write better informed, less sensational reports about jury trials, ABA ROLI conducts legal-journalism trainings.
Enhancing “street law” program: ABA ROLI is building upon an already sustainable “street law” program within the Tbilisi State University to raise youths’ awareness of jury trials. Through this program, we are training law students who have traveled to 28 area high schools to teach 600 students about the jury trial system. ABA ROLI is also developing and will publish 600 copies of a related manual for distribution among high school students.
For additional information on related programs promoting the equality of arms between Georgia’s prosecutors and defense attorneys and ensuring the most just outcomes for criminal trials, from 2012—2014, ABA ROLI created and implemented additional training programs for defense attorneys.