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ODHIR monitors violations in Georgia’s judicial system

By Ana Robakidze
Thursday, December 11
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) released its Georgia Trial Monitoring Report on December 9 and said there are some concerns related to a number of fair trial rights, including equality between parties and the presumption of innocence in Georgia. The OSCE office also notes shortcomings in the legislation, such as issues related to trials in absentia, and the need for improved rules of evidence. The report also mentions the possibility of political persecution against former officials, as ODHIR officers have monitored the absence of political neutrality with regards to particular criminal cases.

“Georgia is undergoing important reforms of its criminal justice system that will hopefully result in the improved protection of fair trial rights in court proceedings…I am confident that ODIHR’s monitoring effort, as illustrated in this report’s findings and recommendations, contributes to the further consolidation of Georgia’s democratic institutions,” Michael Link, Director of ODIHR said. The OSCE office believes the trial monitoring has proven to be a powerful tool for supporting judicial reforms and promoting domestic and international guarantees of fair trial rights in many OSCE participating States and it will be a great help for Georgian authorities in improving the judicial system of the country.

The ODHIR report offers various recommendations to the governmental institutions responsible for free and fair judicial system in the country. The recommendations are issued to the court, chief prosecutor’s office and executive bodies in the government. The ODHIR urges the government to protect the presumption of innocence and ensure a transparent and consultative selection process of the Chief Prosecutor and avoid polarization of his office. The Chief Prosecutor’s Office is advised to consider issuing standard guidance to prosecutors to ensure that indictments are not included or treated as evidence and to refrain from calling the defendant to testify as a witness for the prosecution.

OSCE has expressed full readiness to support Georgia in implementing all recommendations.

Georgian government immediately welcomed the recommendations issued by ODHIR and said the mission has been a great support to the ongoing judicial reform. The official statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office says the government has been implementing judicial reforms and the process still goes on.

“This report is of utmost importance, and the Government will spare no effort to ensure the successful implementation of the recommendations therein and the elimination of the violations identified in the process of monitoring.” It is said in the statement.

US Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland also believes that the fact that Georgia is still in the process of implementing reforms in the judicial system, it is better to continue monitoring the process. However, he confirmed that he agrees with some recommendations provided in the report.

ODIHR launched the trial monitoring project in February 2013. The project was directed to studying 14 high profile criminal cases against senior officials of the previous government in Georgia. Attorney, Otar Kakhidze, who has been working on majority of the mentioned criminal cases, says the report can be a good base for the defense side to appeal the court and request the criminal cases against officials of the previous government to be reviewed once again.