The third trial monitoring report of high-profile criminal cases
Today Transparency International Georgia is publishing the third monitoring report on high-profile criminal cases. During April 2014-June 2015 TI Georgia has continued to observe, document and assess court proceedings.
The third report contains observations on 11 criminal cases, where the accused were former high officials - Mikheil Saakashvili, Gigi Ugulava, Vano Merabishvili, Bachana Akhalaia and others.
- The media faced no problems in making audio or video recordings of the trials; they freely exercised the right granted to them by law.
- The use of preventive measures was abused. The problem of abusing usage of detention was particularly clear in case of Gigi Ugulava. He was detained for more than one year without a guilty verdict rendered against him.
- The chronology of measures enacted against him and the abuse of the aforementioned legislative discrepancy related to preventive measures were indicative of the process being directed by political motives. The impression produced was that the prosecution’s main purpose at that moment was to have the accused detained.
- The law did not prescribe a maximum period for investigation of the case and for the trial; it only set the standard of a reasonable period. This standard was not duly adhered to in the cases observed, which, as a rule, impinged upon the interests of the accused. This problem has been solved to some extent by amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code dated July 8, 2015, according to which the Court of First Instance has to issue a verdict within 24 months of the completion of the pre-trial hearing.
- In certain cases we observed a deliberate and strategic protraction of proceedings by both the prosecution and/or the defense. Protracting the proceedings by representatives of the prosecution are particularly unacceptable, as this clearly violates the accused’s right to swift justice. Postponing hearings on false precepts harms the reputation of the Prosecutor as an institution, and is indicative of political motives in its activities.
- The current system of case assignment is faulty. It is predictable and leaves room for manipulation; it actually allows for the possibility of determining in advance which judge will try which case.
- The negative public perception of the independence and political neutrality of Prosecutor’s Office has resulted from statements made by a number of officials. These do not only damage the reputation of the Prosecutor’s Office but bluntly violate the presumption of innocence. Comments by public officials with respect to high-profile trials and the accused may negatively affect the trial.
- Processes on high-profile cases were accompanied with tense political processes. Statements made by a number of officials bluntly violate the presumption of innocence. Comments by public officials with respect to high-profile trials and the accused may negatively affect the trial.
- The issue of separation of witnesses is a significant problem. As a rule, proper prevention of communication between witnesses during the hearings was not ensured. The witnesses called for the case would wait for the start of the hearing together in the hallway outside the courtroom, during which time they had the opportunity to communicate with one another.
- A number of accused have made statements with respect to violations of the law against them. Information revealed by them clearly contained signs of criminal offenses. It is vital that such facts are addressed appropriately.
- On several occasions the judge was not able to maintain order in the court. But it should be noted that this was not a systemic problem.
- On several occasions 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.
- Another problem was the advertising of the accused’s initial appearance in court, as this information was not always published in the official schedule of the courthouse. The monitoring team sought to obtain information about these sessions by means of mass media.
Transparency International Georgia continues to monitor high-profile criminal cases.
The report was prepared with the financial support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The views expressed in the report to not necessarily coincide with those of Sida and Transparency International Georgia is solely responsible for the report's content.