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Georgian Ombudsman links Ugulava Verdict with Controversial Supreme Court Appointments

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Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria said on February 11 that the Supreme Court’s verdict to imprison Gigi Ugulava, one of the leaders of opposition European Georgia party, embodies the threats she aimed at averting when demanding the halt of the process of judicial appointments.

Lomjaria noted that Shalva Tadumadze, incumbent Supreme Court justice who presided over Ugulava’s case in the top court, served as the Chief Prosecutor when the Prosecutor’s Office was challenging Ugulava’s case in the Court of Appeals, as well as in the Supreme Court.

The Public Defender explained that although Tadumadze did not [personally] represent the prosecution at Ugulava’s trials in lower instances of the court, the prosecution system was still subordinate to him. “There is a strictly vertical subordination system in the Prosecutor’s Office, where all subordinate prosecutors have to fulfill the instructions of the superior prosecutor and all employees of the Prosecutor’s Office obey the Chief Prosecutor,” Lomjaria stressed.

“According to the practice of the European Court of Human Rights, personal attitude and behavior of a judge should create a sense of impartiality in the society. A judge whose impartiality raises certain doubts should not participate in case deliberations,” the Public Defender said.

Citing the case of Wettstein v. Switzerland, Ombudsperson noted that European Court of Human Rights has already found breach of European Convention on Human Rights articles, “when an individual was involved in two cases against one party – in the first case, the individual was involved as a lawyer of an opposing party, and later, he was involved in another case as a judge towards the same person.”

“It is clear that hearing of a case by the judge who was Prosecutor General during the consideration of the same case justifiably raises doubts about his impartiality,” Ombudsperson added.

Lomjaria said that her efforts in the judicial selection process aimed at preventing similar risks.

“The Public Defender’s special report additionally emphasized the issue of higher education of Shalva Tadumadze, which raised relevant questions,” Georgian Ombudsperson noted, further adding that “unfortunately, Shalva Tadumadze was elected as a judge by the Parliament without counter arguments being provided.”

“The Public Defender’s special report focused on the issue of Shalva Tadumadze’s higher education. Unfortunately, the Parliament elected Tadumadze as a judge so that no arguments were provided against this issue,” she added.

The Public Defender noted that Ugulava’s case reveals certain shortcomings in connection with judicial impartiality, as well as the issue of judicial appointments. Ombudsperson noted that the ECHR already found a breach of the right to fair trial in a ‘similar’ case, citing the case of Guðmundur Andri Ástráðsson v. Iceland

Therefore, Lomjaria believes that if deliberations into the case continue at the Strasbourg-based court, “it may have a huge importance for Georgian justice.”

On February 10, the Supreme Court of Georgia has found Gigi Ugulava, one of the leaders of opposition European Georgia party, guilty of misspending GEL 48 million of public money from Tbilisi Development Fund, while serving as the mayor of the capital city, and sentenced him to three years and two months in jail.

The three-member chamber of the Supreme Court delivered the ruling with two votes in favor without oral hearing. Newly appointed Supreme Court justices, former Chief Prosecutor Shalva Tadumadze, and Merab Gabinashvili supported the ruling. Noteworthy that Tadumadze served as the Prosecutor General during the Ugulava’s case proceedings in the court of second instance.

The opposition parties decided to cease electoral reform talks with the ruling Georgian Dream party after it emerged on February 10 that the Supreme Court of Georgia sentenced Gigi Ugulava to imprisonment.

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

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