Georgia: “Human rights must be better protected in the justice system”

Report following visit to Georgia
headline Strasbourg 05/07/2011
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"More efforts are needed to address serious shortcomings in the judiciary and increase its transparency and fairness" said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, releasing today a report on the visit to Georgia 18-20 April 2011. The report focuses on the level of protection of human rights in the justice system in Georgia.

Several steps have been taken by the Georgian authorities to reform the criminal justice system, observes the Commissioner. However, the policy of "zero tolerance" of petty crime, has been pursued with extremely long terms of imprisonment and does raise concerns about the proportionality of sentences. "The authorities should adopt a more humane criminal justice policy centred on the principles of restorative, rather than retributive, justice. Further steps should be pursued to reduce detention on remand and imprisonment, including for juvenile offenders".

Although significant efforts have been made to reinforce the independence of the judiciary, the Commissioner finds that further efforts are needed to safeguard it from undue interference. He recommended additional measures to prevent political influence on the High Council of Justice and to protect the individual independence of judges.

He further notes that there appear to have been cases of prosecutions influenced by procedural violations during the police investigations. Allegations of politically motivated prosecutions against opposition activists were also received by the Commissioner. He urges the authorities to respond in a clear and transparent manner to the expressed concerns in each such case. "Vigorous efforts are needed to ensure that fair trial guarantees and the principle of equality of arms are respected".

It still happens that lawyers encounter difficulties in exercising their profession freely. There have been instances of harassment, abusive prosecutions and other forms of pressure on them. While the new Code of Criminal Procedure provides for increased defence rights, the criminal justice system demonstrates an imbalance in favour of the prosecution. "Systemic measures should be envisaged to ensure genuine adversarial proceedings. Defence lawyers must be allowed to operate without impediments and in full confidentiality when providing legal assistance to their clients".

Particular attention should be paid to the plea bargaining procedure, which is extensively applied in criminal cases in Georgia. "A combination of factors such as very high conviction rates, a stringent sentencing policy and the low public trust in the justice system can influence defendants to plead guilty even if innocent, leading to a distortion of justice. Effective and adequate judicial control is needed, so that the safeguards foreseen by the legislation are fully implemented in practice. Additional efforts are needed to increase the transparency of procedures."

The response of the Georgian authorities is appended to the Commissioner's report.

Read the report
Report in Georgian