A new Human Rights Commissioner report on Georgia urges the country’s authorities to “address serious shortcomings in the judiciary and increase its transparency and fairness.”
The report published today, which focuses on the level of protection of human rights in the justice system, follows Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg’s visit to Georgia last April.
Several steps have been taken by the Georgian authorities to reform the criminal justice system, according to the commissioner. However, the policy of “zero tolerance” of petty crime, has been pursued with extremely long terms of imprisonment and raises concerns about the proportionality of sentences.
The commissioner states: “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 recommends additional measures to prevent political influence on the High Council of Justice and to protect the individual independence of judges.
The commissioner 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,” he states.
While the new Code of Criminal Procedure provides for increased defence rights, the criminal justice system demonstrates an imbalance in favour of the prosecution.
The Commissioner adds: “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.
“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.”