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Introduce juries at least in criminal trials, says lawyer

Oliver Nääs.
Oliver Nääs. Source: Rene Suurkaev/ERR

Lawyer Oliver Nääs, known for representing former long-time Center Party chairman and Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar, suggested in a recent opinion piece that Estonia could introduce juries to close the perceived gap between the population and the country's judiciary.

"There is no doubt that it would cost more, which is making politicians careful. But a jury guarantees a more honest proceeding and a more just outcome, which is why it would be petty to throw out the idea just because of its cost," Nääs wrote in his opinion piece for daily Eesti Päevaleht (link in Estonian).

According to Nääs, juries imply giving part of the state's judicial power directly to the people, which he considers to be appropriate in a democracy. As he sees it, Estonia has long decided to follow the British-American model concerning its judiciary. Juries are an integral part of both countries' court systems.

The jury's function to decide whether or not a defendant is guilty directly links the final decision to the will of the people, Nääs suggested. Those citizens called upon for jury duty would be independent from the court system, not appointed by means of a political decision, and their income and career would not depend on their actions and decisions in this function.

Estonians typically perceived the courts as distant from everyday life, Nääs said. Courts are often seen as theatrical, and their ability to come to just verdicts often called into question.

Nääs stressed that legal issues and leading court proceedings would have to remain in the hands of the judges, while juries would come to a verdict based on the available facts. A professional judge would still decide whether or not a defendant's actions constitute a crime, and whether or not the presented evidence is admissible.

The concept common in continental Europe that assumes that a judge is impartial and, at the end of the available line of appeals, also infallible does not correspond to real life, Nääs argued. We all make mistakes, and we have biases, some of which are clear to us, and others of which we are unaware. For a court trial, the benefit of a jury is that it reduces the weight of biases and prejudices, and works against potential mistakes.

Where in other circumstances a conclusion may be reached too lightly, a jury needs to debate its case, he added.

Mixed courts of judges and lay people couldn't solve the problem of the perceived distance between the courts and the people, Nääs argued, as the lay people were hardly inclined to argue their own point against the knowledge and experience of the professional judge. And with this fact, all the risks are back that the British-American approach addresses by adding a jury.

Nääs concluded that courts with a jury wouldn't need to be made conditional in all cases, but that they would increase the fairness of the system in criminal cases. Juries guarantee a more just proceeding and verdict, which is why it would be petty to dismiss the option just because it costs a lot.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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