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Personal Data Protection as a Tool for Classifying Court Activities

News | Rule of Law | Publications | Blog Post 16 November 2016

Author: Giorgi Davituri

 

The public cannot know the basis of court decisions made on the cases of the former President, former Interior Minister, and the former Defense Minister. Such is the indirect result of existing laws in Georgia. The answer to a simple question of why is also simple: “Personal data protection is an important challenge for the state; international acts and the EU Association Agreement obligate us to protect personal data”.

 

Personal data includes all information related to a person, including their name, surname, criminal records, etc. In other words, any act issued by the court includes personal data. Upon request of a court decision, the court may encrypt personal data, but this act loses meaning when a specific case is requested and the identity of the involved person is known in advance. The Georgian courts use this inability to encrypt personal data as an argument for refusing to disclose decisions. As a result, it is impossible in Georgia to receive a decision made by a specific court on a specific case; Protection of personal data is given absolute priority over freedom of expression and transparency of the court.

 

The legislation law defines a special category of personal data (e.g., criminal record, information on the use of a preventive measure) that it regulates separately. More specifically, this data can only be released upon consent of the data subject. The law does not provide for any exceptions.

 

Even though there is a high public and international interest towards the court’s recent decisions to convict a number of former high-ranking officials, which gave rise to questions related to judicial independence and court impartiality, the public will not have access to the argumentation behind these decisions, unless the case subjects release the details of their cases.

 

This practice of closedness is especially problematic considering the fact that court hearings are public in Georgia. Even though the court decision on the case of Georgia’s former Interior Minister was broadcast live, the court nevertheless refuses to disclose its decision and give the public the opportunity to assess its argumentation, by stating that the public must not get hold of the personal data of the defendant.  

 

It is worth pointing out that Tbilisi City Court, referring to the right to privacy guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, refused our request to disclose its decision related to the case of Ivane Merabishvili based on the personal data protection argument, even though this data is publicly available in the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

 

The Georgian public has a right to know not only the general trends of academic and legal practice in Georgian courts, but also the reasoning and argumentation in each particular case, especially if there are questions about the court’s objectivity and impartiality. By refusing to disclose its decisions on high-profile cases, the court is leaving the public with nothing more than politically motivated explanations of its decisions.

 

In general, personal data protection is an important component of the right to privacy. However, no right is absolute. According to Georgian law, protection of personal data is given unconditional priority over access to court decisions, regardless of who is the subject of the data, the extent of public interest in the court's decision, and whether the data subject has a reasonable expectation of personal data protection. Therefore, the existing rules of access to court decisions in Georgia threaten the transparency and credibility of the judiciary and violate freedom of expression and the right to have access to public information.

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