The Fourth Trial Monitoring Report of High-Profile Criminal Cases
Since the change of government in 2012, former public officials have become subjects of criminal prosecution, causing doubts, both inside and outside of the country, regarding the politicization of trials. Transparency International Georgia has been monitoring the hearings of high-profile criminal cases since February 2013. Three reports have been published in this time. The first report covers the period from February 2013 to July 2013, the second report covers July 2013 to April 2014, and the third covers the period from May 2014 to June 2015. The organization’s observers have attended court hearings and documented trials for the purpose of further assessment. The purpose of this report is to make information related to the proceedings and positions of the parties accessible to the wider public, in order to reveal procedural violations as well as certain tendencies related to high-profile cases.
The fourth report covers the period from June 2015 to March 2017. Observations were made on 12 criminal cases, where the accused were former officials of the previous government: Mikheil Saakashvili, Gigi Ugulava, Vano Merabishvili, Zurab Adeishvili, Nikanor Melia and others.
The following main tendencies and facts were identified as a result of our monitoring:
- Circumstances surrounding the case of former high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Defense (the so-called Cable Case) have raised serious doubts about the fairness of court proceedings and their independence from political influence.
- The decision to classify the Cable Case as secret hindered the defense from accessing case files for a certain period of time, during which, the defense was unable to fully realize its legally guaranteed right to defend.
- After the Constitutional Court granted Giorgi Ugulava’s claim, the unconstitutional practice of using imprisonment as a preventive measure was eliminated. Particularly troubling was the repeated use of detention against Gigi Ugulava. In some cases, the use of detention as a new preventive measure suspiciously coincided with the expiration of another preventive measure against the same accused. This created an impression that the prosecution’s main purpose at the time was to simply keep Ugulava detained.
- In some cases, there was confrontation between the judges of the Constitutional Court, which damages the court's authority and the parties’ respect towards it. On several occasions, the judges also exhibited an unethical attitude towards a party, which is also incompatible with the principle of fair trial.
- Problems were identifies with the use of asset freezes as a procedural measure of compulsion against Mikheil Saakashvili. The monitoring revealed that there was insufficient factual basis for the freezing of assets of persons related to the accused. The decision also did not allow for the future possibility to review the asset freeze.
- Problems related to separation of witnesses have still not been solved completely. In most cases, proper prevention of communication between witnesses during hearings was not ensured. In some cases, witnesses were able to attend court hearings before being questioned.
- The media faced no problems in making audio or video recordings of trials; they freely exercised the right granted to them by law.
- There were still cases when not all interested parties were able to attend the hearings. The reason in some cases was the limited size of the courtroom, or a large number of attendees. In some cases, hearings of special public interest were not held in larger courtrooms, even though they were available.
- Technical problems with microphones were common during court hearings. This made it difficult for the attendees to hear witness testimonies.
- In a number of cases, the process was postponed and artificially delayed.
- On several occasions, the judge was unable to maintain order in the courtroom. However, this was not a systemic problem. I some cases, the judge fined and expelled offenders from the courtroom.
A more general problem are the comments made by high-ranking officials about ongoing high-profile cases and persons involved in them. Such comments may have a negative influence on the court.