Somali pirates may stand jury trial

BUSAN, Tuesday 22 February 2011 (Bernama) -- Somali pirates suspected of hijacking a South Korean freighter and shooting its captain may stand trial next month with a civilian jury if they apply for such a trial here, Yonhap news agency quoted court officials as saying Tuesday.

Five Somali pirates have been investigated by prosecutors after being captured alive during a Jan 21 Navy Commando operation in the Arabian Sea.

The operation killed eight other pirates and rescued all 21 crew members, though a South Korean captain was shot several times during the gun battle and still remains unconscious despite several surgeries.

South Korea began to adopt the jury trial system in 2008 on a limited basis in which a jury is convened in criminal cases if a defendant asks the court to have civilians hear the case.

The jury's verdict is non-bonding and the system remains in an experimental stage. Public awareness of the criminal justice system, which is used in the United States and other Western countries, is low.

"As the civilian jury is convened upon the request by the defendants, there has been no decision on the trial at this point. If the defendants apply for (a jury), we will take it into full consideration," said Park Hong-dae, the chief of Busan District Court, which has jurisdiction over the pirates' case.

"Some defendants are reported to have denied their allegations. If we turn down their request for a jury, other countries would consider it unusual and would question the standard of South Korean courts."

The Busan District Prosecutors' Office had announced its plan to press charges against them as early as next month for an open trial. Over 7,000 criminal cases were eligible for trial by jury as of 2009, but the jury was called for only 95 cases.

MySinchew 2011.02.22