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Staggeringly low success rate for defendants in Georgian courts

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, April 27
Although transparency in Georgia’s legal system has undoubtedly improved since Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in 2003, data shows that the chance of a defendant being acquitted is still extremely low- TrustLaw( global centre for free legal assistance and a hub of news and information on anti-corruption issues, good governance and women's legal rights), has reported.

“Looking at the statistics for criminal cases in 2010, recently published by the Supreme Court, the number of cases won by the defendants was just 0.04 percent,” Mariam Gabedava, senior analyst at the Tbilisi office of the lobby group Transparency International, said. “In 2009 it was 0.1 percent and we said at the time that the number was catastrophic but a year later and it has got even worse.” The Supreme Court 2010 statistics showed that only eight of 20,196 people tried last year in the criminal courts were acquitted.

As the article states, Nana Vasadze, a spokesperson for the Supreme Court, defended the fairness of Georgia’s criminal courts. She said that Georgia was ahead of other post-Soviet countries and that in any case these statistics don’t tell the full story. “Most of the cases that would in fact have been acquitted in the courts were dropped earlier at the Prosecutor’s office,” she said. “In 2010, 1,394 people had cases against them dropped at the Prosecutor’s office.”

According to the article, the data from the Supreme Court, gives more detail on the Georgian justice system. Plea bargaining, where the defendant pleads guilty and pays a fine in return for a lighter sentence, has become a major part of the Georgian justice system. Defendants entered pleas in nearly 80 percent of the cases in 2010, according to the Supreme Court data. Gabedava from Transparency International said that the Prosecutor General’s office told them that in 2009 plea bargains earned the state about GEL 63 million ($38 million). She said that often the quality of the defence lawyers is low while the state prosecutors spend millions on training, “Often because of a lack of professionalism, defenders prefer to simply sign a plea bargain which is far easier than studying the case and preparing an argument,” Gabedava said. Vasadze, the Supreme Court press chief, had a different point of view, “When the state represents one side in a court case and an individual is on the other side, the winner will be the one who arrives at the court better prepared and better presents their position,” she said.

The current authorities have been pushing Georgia to join NATO and the European Union (EU) but Kakha Kozhoridze, the Director of Legal Aid at the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), said the plea bargain system and the tiny acquittal rate for defendants is a potential hindrance to these aspirations. Kozhoridze said that if an individual is fighting a case that involves a state company or a well-known and well-connected person, it is virtually impossible to win."There should be significant state interest in why people lose in court. Everybody from NATO, the EU and other international organizations suggest that if Georgia wants to achieve its goals then it must have an independent, impartial court."

An allegedly unjust Court system is one of the key topical issues for Georgian opposition parties, who frequently mention that the Supreme Court is “the slave of the current Government”, an attitude which is not shared by majority representatives who identified court decisions which did not satisfy the government’s will.

According to analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze, the current authorities are ignoring one of the main demands of the international community regarding court system reform as, “the current authorities do not want to lose major levers. Court system reform is not in the interest of the government and I do not expect concrete changes in this field from the ruling team.”