Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), a local watchdog, released a statement on April 24 criticizing recently adopted legislation – toughening penalties for breaking emergency laws. The statement reads that the deliberation took place through urgent procedure, without due procedure of debate, and some of its provisions are “vague” while others seem “not compliant with human rights standards established by the Constitution.”
On April 23, Georgian Parliament approved fast-tracked changes in the Criminal Code, imposing a maximum penalty of six years in jail for repeat violation of the state of emergency or martial law regulations, “unless otherwise specified by the relevant presidential decree.”
The Code was also amended to introduce a punishment by means of house arrest from six months to two years, or up to three years of imprisonment for repeat violation of self-isolation/quarantine regime which is determined by the Georgian Law on Public Health.
The latter sanction will remain in force after the current emergency has been lifted.
The watchdog highlighted that the Legal Affairs Committee failed to argument the grounds for expediting the legislative changes thought the Parliament, and failed to involve members of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee in its deliberations. GYLA further called attention to the fact that the fast-tracked process did not allow for the participation of the civil society groups.
When it comes to changes in the administrative offenses code, GYLA noted that the types of offenses covered – violation of the quarantine, curfew and the state of emergency -are prejudicial to the potential criminal sanctions and therefore they shall be adjudicated by Courts rather than by the police, or other law enforcement bodies mandated by the Presidential decree.
When it comes to the amendments to the Criminal Code, the watchdog noted that some penalties are “disproportionate” to the violations of emergency rules that may have caused only “insignificant harm,” GYLA stated.
The watchdog called for applying more “proportional” sanctions for the breach of the state of emergency, and for applying harsher penalties only when the offense had led to “significant harm.”
GYLA also noted that the amendments to the Criminal Code also seem to create a legal conundrum: an offense of repeat violation of the emergency laws which caused grave damage, is currently covered by the Presidential degree leading to a maximum sentence of three years, which places it under the category of felonies.
The new amendments foresee the punishment of up to six years in prison, which is commensurate with the category of “serious crimes” and therefore also entails application of the special investigative measures (e.g. police surveillance).
GYLA notes, that despite the toughening of the maximum sentence, the rules applicable to felonies (currently in force by President’s decree) shall apply.