IDFI’s Statement on Access to Court Decisions

Statements | Rule of Law and Human Rights 24 September 2020

 

Based on the appeals of “Institute for Development of Freedom of Information” and “Media Development Foundation” the Constitutional Court of Georgia, by its decision of June 7, 2019, ruled that the provisions of the Law of Georgia on Personal Data Protection, specifically Article 5 and paragraphs 1 and 3 of Article 6 were unconstitutional as they prohibited access to the full text of court decisions delivered within the scope of public hearings by Common Courts of Georgia. According to the constitutional court, any decision rendered in the process of adjudication should be open unless there is a substantiated necessity to restrict its accessibility. The Court declared the disputed norms void from May 2020 and thus gave the Parliament of Georgia time to harmonize existing legislation with the requirements of the Constitution, but the Parliament has not adopted appropriate legislative amendments within the prescribed time frame.

 

Although no changes have been made to the legislation to date, from May 1, 2020 the provisions of the Law of Georgia on Personal Data Protection, that restrict access to the full text of court decisions delivered within the scope of public hearings by Common Courts of Georgia, are abolished. Consequently, after this date the courts must be guided by the standard established by the Constitutional Court of Georgia, however, the common courts still do not issue the full texts of the decisions upon requesting them as public information.

 

IDFI requested the full text of the judgments rendered in May 2020 from several common courts. In response to our requests, courts stated that they are obliged to protect the personal data contained in the judicial acts from disclosure, therefore, they cannot provide us with the full texts of court decisions (without personal data being redacted). Afterwards, IDFI additionally requested the full texts of court decisions regarding the high-profile cases[1] that are subject to the high public interest. However, once more courts refused to disclose requested information on the grounds of personal data protection.

 

It should also be noted that since April 30, 2020, none of the judgments rendered by the common courts have been published in the case management system.

 

Such practices show that the challenges related to the transparency of the judiciary still remain, and despite the significant decision rendered by the Constitutional Court in favor of publicity, the courts do not take into account the content of the Constitutional Court's decision and do not disclose court decisions without being redacted.

 

Since society has low confidence in the judicial system, effective public control over the work of the judiciary is of particular importance, which requires ensuring transparency of courts. Failure to comply with the decision of the Constitutional Court and disregard for the constitutional standard significantly undermine the rule of law in the country and threaten fundamental democratic values.

 

IDFI calls on the common courts to ensure publicity of the full texts of the court decisions in accordance with the standard established by the Constitutional Court. Moreover, IDFI calls on the Parliament of Georgia to initiate relevant legislative amendments in accordance with the Constitutional Court’s decision in a timely manner.

 

 

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[1] Copies of the decisions against Giorgi Ugulava, Mikheil Kalandia, Irakli Okruashvili.

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