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Ombudsperson Speaks of Serious Shortcomings at Court Hearings on Detained Protesters

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Georgian Public Defender, Nino Lomjaria said on November 22 that “serious shortcomings” were revealed during consideration of the cases of 37 people detained during the November 18 protests and that “Tbilisi City Court hearings failed to meet the minimum human rights standards.”

Pre-hearing period

According to the statement released by the Public Defender’s Office on November 22, representatives of the Public Defender visited the detainees in various police stations on November 18 with some of them indicating that they were not aware of the motive for their detention, had not seen the arrest or offense protocol; those, who had read their protocols, categorically denied the information that they contained.

The Public Defender paid particular attention on 20 persons detained by police, who, as she explains, had been handcuffed in patrol police cars for several hours. The Ombudsperson noted that some of them even said that they were not allowed to use the toilet or inform their family members about their whereabouts. The Public Defender also noted that [police officers] delayed defense lawyers as they arrived at the Interior Ministry building, that further complicated their [lawyers’] meeting with the detainees.

According to Nino Lomjaria, maximum detention term of 12 hours prescribed by law was violated for those detained during the working hours [previous day]. “The court failed to ensure the distribution of cases between different judges in order to ensure timely conduct of the hearings and to prevent deprivation of liberty for an unreasonable term due to the delays,” the Public Defender said.

Court hearings

The Public Defender underlined that only one judge was in charge of considering the cases of all 37 detainees, which led to “an unreasonable delay in the court proceedings.” She emphasized the kind of violations, which, according to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, may result in the violation of the right to fair trial, particularly:

  • When examining the only credible and neutral evidence adduced by the police – video recordings, it was not possible to exactly identify alleged offences or offender;
  • Police did not submit the video footage of body cameras, while the demand of the defense side to obtain the video footage of body cameras was rejected by the court for an unknown reason;
  • Since the explanations of police officers often contradicted one another and could not recall the details of the detention, also could not identify the persons allegedly detained by them, doubts arose as to whether the police officers who signed the detention protocols were actually at the scene of detention.

Right to defense

The Georgian Public Defender explained that the defense was not given sufficient time or opportunity to actually exercise the right to defense. “The postponement of the hearing for just one or two hours was not enough not only for the defense to obtain evidence, but even for the police officers to get themselves acquainted with the materials submitted to the court,” Lomjaria said.

According to her, the judge gave “unjustifiably little time” to the lawyers to ask questions to witnesses and present a final stance. Lomjaria also noted that the court imposed “disproportionately different” penalties to the detainees, that “raised questions about the judge’s motivation.”

Shortcomings in legislation

Lomjaria also pointed at shortcomings in the Code of Administrative Offences, noting that the ongoing processes, including the court hearings confirm that the code fails to meet even minimum standards and calls on the Parliament to adopt a new normative act “as soon as possible.”

The Georgian Public Defender also called on the Prosecutor’s Office “to take into account the practice relating to the persons detained on 20-21 June 2019 and the facts that the Administrative Offences Code does not meet the minimum standards of human rights.” She also called on the Prosecutor’s Office “to use the protest mechanism provided for by the Organic Law on the Prosecutor’s Office, appeal to the court and demand the release the detained persons.”

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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