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Lawyers start large-scale protest for their rights

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, May 31
The Bar Association of Georgia launched large-scale protest rallies throughout Georgia on May 30th, against Article 111 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which restricts the rights of lawyers and remains unchanged under a new draft. Thousands of lawyers have threatened to go on hunger strike. The President also imposed a veto on the draft amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code.

The lawyers state that the changes which are planned in the Procedure Code and especially the second part of Article 111 extremely restrict their rights, as under the Article the defense is precluded from filing a substantiated motion to the court for search and seizure.

“Lawyers have no right to search and remove evidence that is crucially important in a case. At the same time, defense lawyers have no rights to request information from the state structures while the prosecutors enjoy this right,” the lawyers state, adding that the rallies will not be stopped until both the accusers and the defense have equal rights.

The President vetoed the proposed amendments. Mr. Saakashvili stated that his decision is related to the protection of lawyers’ rights. The Parliament will have to override the veto if the planned changes in the Procedure Criminal Code to take effect.

The Head of the Bar Association of Georgia, Zaza Khatiashvili, appealed to Parliament members not to override the veto. According to him, adopting the changes will turn Georgia into a “Bolshevik” state and will be a sign that the new Government of Georgia is proceeding along the “anti-state” path started by the previous administration.

“I would like to tell you that the Ministry of Internal Affairs is in exactly the same position as it was during Saakashvili’s regime, and if you don’t intervene, the results will be catastrophic. In my judgment, the effect of Article 111 of the Criminal Procedure Code has to be balanced with section 2 of the revised edition of the enactment, in order to give the defense side the right to file a substantiated motion in court for search and seizure, because if the defense has this right, it will permit them to represent their clients fully,” Khatiashvili suggested.

Khatiashvili gave specific facts. According to him, four years ago, during Saakashvili’s regime, a lawyer was defending a person who faced charges of robbery. The defendant argued that when the robbery occurred, he was not in Tbilisi. The defendant's lawyer requested information from the mobile phone company, Geocell in order to determine where his client had been at the time of the robbery but the Judge did not grant the lawyer's motion and replied, that: "this is a seizure and according to Article 111, part 2 of the Criminal Procedure Code, you do not have the right to make such an application in court”.

“This feudal law was enacted by Parliament; the current Government appears to be generating the same results the Saakashvili regime,” Khatiahsvili stated, adding that if the lawyers’ rights are not protected, Georgia will be a “Prosecutors’ state,” without justice and will not be a strong civil society.

Georgian Dream, Minister for Parliament, Koba Davitashvili appealed to the lawyers “to think first, before they take a gift from "the devil" (meaning the President).

He claims that if the Parliament does not overrule the veto, lawyers’ rights will not be improved and the law will be preserved with its shortcomings.

“There are various changes aimed at improving law… the changes envisaged by Article 111 are coming into force later, it was my initiative. Khatiashvili has always been against Saakashvili and it is surprising that he asked Saakashvili to veto the draft. Saakashvili’s response was also curious,” Davitashvili stated.

The Deputy Head of Human Rights and Civil Integration Parliamentary Committee, Gedevan Popkhadze stated that the Bar Association of Georgia is a powerful and respectable organization and the parliament members will listen to their remarks and suggestions.