Georgia’s system for handling administrative offenses is "flawed", which "lacks full due process and fair trial rights" for defendants, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on January 4.
Georgia’s justice system differentiates between criminal offenses and administrative offenses, which are misdemeanors. Penalties for administrative offenses range from a fine to imprisonment of up to 90 days. Maximum imprisonment term was increased from 30 to 90 days following anti-government street protest rallies in 2009 - the move criticized in the EU report as “not fully in compliance with international human rights standards.”
The 41-page report by the Human Rights Watch, Administrative Error: Georgia’s Flawed System for Administrative Detention, points out number of problems, among them the disparity in rights enjoyed by detainees held for administrative offenses, and those enjoyed by criminal defendants.
The administrative offenses code, which, the report says, "the authorities have used in recent years to lock up protestors and activists at times of political tension", does not require police to inform defendants of their rights promptly or to provide reasons for their detention and detainees often are not allowed to contact their families, while lawyers have difficulty finding detainees in custody.
The report says that trials into the administrative offenses are often "perfunctory".
"In the cases Human Rights Watch reviewed, trials were perfunctory, rarely lasted more than 15 minutes, and judicial decisions relied almost exclusively on police testimonies. In cases when detainees could retain lawyers, they lacked time to prepare an effective defense," the report reads.
Lack of substantiation in court rulings into the cases of administrative offenses has also been raised for number of times by the Public Defender's Office in its reports.
One of the key problems identified in the Human Rights Watch report is that detention conditions for those who receive custodial sentence as an administrative penalty, "are extremely poor". Detention cells, known as "temporary detention isolators", are overseen by the Interior Ministry.
According to the Interior Ministry it renovated 12 isolators and built three new ones last year; it says providing acceptable standards is a work in progress, which will be accomplished by the end of 2012.
6,511 individuals were tried for administrative offenses in 2009; the number increased to 8,657 in 2010 of which 3,097 were sent to imprisonment. The administrative imprisonment rate for 2011 up to October was 2,550, according to the Interior Ministry.
A new code of administrative offenses has been drafted by the authorities, which was passed with its first hearing by the Parliament in July, 2011. The Human Rights Watch, however, said the draft did not address concerns related to due process.
The rights group has called on the Georgian authorities to consider abolishing administrative imprisonment as a penalty as part of the ongoing reform.
“People who are arrested shouldn’t have to wait for a reform process to be finished to have their basic rights respected,” said Giorgi Gogia, senior Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “It is encouraging that the authorities are reforming the outdated code, but more urgent steps are needed to address the gaps in the law.”