On 24 June 2015, at the plenary session of the Parliament of Georgia, a member of the United National Movement, Akaki Minashvili, talked about the existing problems in the courts with a special emphasis upon the independence of the judiciary. The MP stated: "I will now present you a recently published document by the EU, which is a 2014 report, and it unambiguously says that the violation of the presumption of innocence and intimidation in the course of the investigation process are very common in Georgia."FactCheck
took interest in the statement and verified its accuracy.
According to Article 40 of the Constitution of Georgia, an individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty as prescribed by the law and an enacted verdict of guilty. Additionally, no one is obliged to prove his innocence and the burden of proof rests with the prosecutor. The same principles are enshrined in the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia which says that respect toward human dignity and the presumption of innocence should be duly reflected in every aspect of court procedures.The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the presumption of innocence requires that the members of a court, in carrying out their duties, should not start with the preconceived idea that the accused has committed the offence charged (Section 77). Every individual who is prosecuted under criminal charges is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty by an enacted verdict of guilty. According to the practice
established by the European Court of Human Rights, the presumption of innocence could possibly be violated not only by the court itself but by statements made by other public officials about pending criminal investigations which encourage the public to presume the suspect guilty and prejudge the assessment of the facts by a competent judicial authority. Even though authorities are not forbidden from informing the public about criminal investigations in progress, it is required that they do so with all the discretion and circumspection necessary if the presumption of innocence is to be respected. It is not prescribed what can possibly be considered as a violation of the presumption of innocence by authorities. It must be determined during the investigation process on a case by case basis.On 22 June 2015, the European Union published the EU Annual Report
on Human Rights and Democracy in the World (2014). The report includes Georgia and it analyses both the positive and the problematic aspects with regard to the protection of human rights in the country. The document states that: "Violations of the presumption of innocence and frequent reports of intimidation in the course of investigations were also a cause for concern." However, neither this report nor the one about the European Union Commissioner’s visit to Georgia specify in exactly which cases the presumption of innocence was violated.
It must be noted that the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy presented a joint working document on the implementation of the European Union Neighbourhood Policy in Georgia. The document clarifies that in order to study the situation in Georgia, the European Commission uses the reports of Georgia’s Public Defender, different non-governmental organisations and the OSCE/ODIHR. These documents constitute the European Union’s sources.
The Trial Monitoring Report Georgia, released by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on 9 December 2014, describes the problems in Georgia’s judiciary, facts of the violation of the presumption of innocence and recommendations both for the judiciary and other branches of the government. The report includes cases of the violation of the presumption of innocence such as the isolation of a suspect during a trial and forcing him to disclose information about prior criminal record. Additionally, public officials made statements pointing to the guilt of the suspect and then used these statements of accusation as evidence.
The European Court of Human Rights 2009 case of Ramishvili and Kokhreidze v Georgia ruled that putting the applicants in a barred dock, which looked very much like a metal cage and separated them from the rest of the court room and having a barred ceiling without a sufficient justification, undermines the principle of the presumption of innocence and could lead an average observer to believe that "extremely dangerous criminals" were on trial. Despite this ruling, the 2014 OSCE report revealed that suspects were usually put in an isolated space of the courtroom. In the courtrooms (where it was actually possible), suspects were put in glass cages during the duration of the whole trial. Additionally, suspects were guarded by between two and five security personnel on average.
The report also revealed facts of the violation of the presumption of innocence by judges who were asking suspects about their prior criminal records. According to the report’s conclusion, permitting the discussion of a defendant’s prior convictions may have unjustly left the impression of the defendant as a criminal. This might fully contradict the real factual circumstances of the case and leave an impression that the judge has a pre-existing opinion about whether or not a defendant is guilty.
The 2014 report on the Situation of the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, published by the Public Defender’s apparatus, and the report on Human Rights and Freedoms, published by Georgia’s Democratic Initiative in the second half of 2013, describe the systematic nature of the violations of the presumption of innocence and the difficult situation in this regard.It must be noted that the first EU-Georgia dialogue on the protection of human rights was organised on 29 April 2009. Therefore, in the human rights reports published annually by the EU, the situation in Georgia is also discussed. Even though the 2011 report (
p. 151) mentions that the level of the independence of the judiciary in Georgia is not satisfactory, up until 2014 there was no indication of the facts of the violation of the presumption of innocence and intimidation in the respective reports.
The 2008 report of the Public Defender also discussed the difficult situation with regard to the facts of the violation of the presumption of innocence in Georgia. Later reports, up until 2012, did not pay attention to facts of the violation of the presumption of innocence and intimidation. However, during the reporting period of 2012, the trend of violations of the presumption of innocence became visible. Public servants were especially active in this regard.
The European Union’s 2014 report, which clearly says that "violations of the presumption of innocence and frequent reports of intimidation in the course of investigations were a cause for concern," is not the only document which discusses the situation in Georgia with regard to the violation of the presumption of innocence. The conclusion of the OSCE trial monitoring report asserts the same. Additionally, this problem is underlined in the reports prepared by Georgia’s Public Defender’s apparatus and Georgia’s Democratic Initiative which were also mentioned by Akaki Minashvili in his speech during the plenary session of the Parliament of Georgia.Therefore, FactCheck concludes that Akaki Minashvili’s statement is TRUE.