Ex-mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava, who is in pre-trial detention for more than 14 months already, has won a landmark case in the Constitutional Court, which ruled on September 16 that keeping an accused person in detention beyond 9-month limitation is unconstitutional.
Constitution says that the term of pre-trial detention of an accused should not exceed 9 months.
But wording of one of the clauses in the criminal procedure code, adopted in 2010, was allowing detention beyond 9-month limitation if new set of charges were filed against the same person.
The Constitutional Court ruled this clause of criminal procedure code as unconstitutional.
The verdict was announced by the chairman of the Constitutional Court, Giorgi Papuashvili, late on Wednesday evening after controversy over delay in issuing of the court’s decision.
Eight out of the nine Constitutional Court members were present at the announcement of the decision; one member – Merab Turava – was absent. His signature was also absent from the verdict. His refusal to sign the verdict caused delay in announcement of the decision, which was originally planned for September 15.
Although the Constitutional Court initially said that it was not authorized to announce the verdict without having signatures of all of its members, the decision was anyway announced late on September 16.
Ugulava, who is one of the leaders of the opposition UNM party, is facing multiple criminal charges in several separate cases, which he denies as politically motivated. Trials into those cases are still ongoing.
The Tbilisi City Court ordered his pre-trial detention in early July, 2014.
When the original 9-month pre-trial detention for Ugulava was about to expire, prosecutors re-qualified in March, 2015 one of the criminal charges against him, which at the time gave the prosecution ground for asking the court to remand the ex-mayor in custody pending court’s verdict.
Similar tactic was used by the prosecution against ex-defense minister and former prison chief Bacho Akhalaia, who was arrested in November 2012 and whose pre-trial detention was extended for several times beyond original 9-month limitation by gradually adding new set of charges against him before he was convicted in October, 2014.
The U.S. Department of State’s annual report on human rights, covering developments of last year, noted concerns of local monitoring groups that prosecution was using “legislative loopholes” to prolong 9-month limitation of pretrial detention.
“Each new set of charges restarts a nine-month clock, and prosecutors often waited to file new charges until the pretrial detention clock was about to expire on the original charges,” reads the report.
Speaking shortly after the Constitutional Court’s decision was announced, Ugulava’s lawyer Beka Basilaia said: “From this very moment Gigi Ugulava is in illegal detention.”
He told Rustavi 2 TV from the Black Sea city of Batumi, where the Georgian Constitutional Court is based, that the authorities have to immediately release Ugulava from the pre-trial detention.
After the court’s verdict was announced, activists and leading figures from the UNM opposition party gathered outside a prison in Tbilisi where Ugulava is held, calling for his immediate release.
In the same constitutional complaint Ugulava was also seeking repealing some other provisions of the criminal procedure code, which he argued were also unconstitutional, but the court rejected this part of the complaint.
This is Ugulava’s second successful constitutional complaint.
The Constitutional Court ruled in May, 2014 that provisions of criminal procedure code, based on which Ugulava was suspended from Tbilisi mayor’s post in December 2013, were unconstitutional.