The U.S. embassy and the EU delegation to Georgia have welcomed the Constitutional Court’s September 16 decision, which ruled that keeping an accused person in pre-trail detention beyond 9-month limitation is unconstitutional.
The ruling was issued based on a complaint lodged by ex-mayor of Tbilisi and one of the leaders of opposition UNM party, Gigi Ugulava, who spent more than 14 months in pre-trial detention. The Tbilisi City Court ordered Ugulava’s release late on September 17 based on the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
Carlo Natale, new deputy head of the EU delegation to Georgia, said that the Constitutional Court’s ruling is “a landmark decision, because it shed clarity and gave a legal certainty on the issue, which is extremely important”, related to detention of an accused person in the course of investigation and trial.
“This was an issue, which had been regulated in different ways and it was a cause of concern for us and we consider that the decision of the Constitutional Court [gave] certainty to these fundamental aspects of the due process,” Natale told journalists in Tbilisi on September 18.
“A big step forward has been made in clarifying fundamental legal aspects, especially giving legal certainty to rules which apply to deprivation of freedom for citizens,” the EU diplomat added.
After the Constitutional Court’s ruling, opposition UNM party and defense lawyers of Ugulava were demanding his immediate release, claiming that the authorities were dragging out the process. They also argued that no further decision from the common courts was required to enforce the Constitutional Court’s verdict.
“Regarding the application of this decision, we noted that it was applied quite swiftly – basically within 24 hours, which we also welcome,” Natale said, but declined to comment further on the specific case.
The U.S. embassy in Tbilisi said in a statement on September 18, that it “welcomes the Georgian judicial system’s adherence to the rule of law and Constitutional principles.”
“A strong, independent judiciary bolsters Georgia’s image as a rules-based, transparent democracy that upholds the rule of law and due process for all of its citizens. We reiterate the importance of ensuring all cases are handled in accordance to the highest international standards of due process and rule of law,” it said.
The Tbilisi City Court ordered Ugulava’s 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.