Access to judicial acts is critical for ensuring judicial accountability. Citizens should have an opportunity to get an accurate idea about the quality of justice, as well as substantiation and fairness of judicial decisions. Unfortunately, judicial acts are still closed to the public. In this way, citizens’ participation in the justice process, even in a passive observer’s role, is minimized. For example, interested parties are not allowed to access decisions on high profile cases. The courts refuse to make these acts public on the pretext of protecting personal data.
The civil society has made significant efforts to ensure access to judicial acts. As a result of these efforts, on June 7, 2019, the Constitutional Court made an important decision, which upheld the legal arguments of civil society organizations and concluded that the judicial acts adopted in open hearings should be available to public. The Constitutional Court, having recognized the disputed norms as unconstitutional and having considered the need for legislative amendments to properly implement the newly established constitutional standards, postponed the execution of the decision until May 1, 2020.
The Parliament of Georgia is obliged to act in accordance with the Constitution and enforce the constitutional standards. It should be noted that in addition to being a constitutional obligation, the execution of the above-mentioned decision is dictated by the so-called Charles Michel Agreement.
The Parliament has not adopted the relevant legislative changes despite the expiration of the deadline set by the Constitutional Court. However, on July 1, 2021, the ruling political party registered an extremely problematic bill to enforce the Constitutional Court decision. The bill creates significant administrative barriers to the accessibility of court decisions as public information. The adoption of the current version of the bill cannot ensure an adequate degree of access to judicial acts in either short or long terms. For example, the initiated bill completely excludes the accessibility of acts adopted before 2022 until January 1, 2024. In addition to legal problems, the draft law poses a real threat of overloading common court judges.
The judiciary currently faces several challenges. One of the factors causing deficiency of trust in common courts is non-accessibility of their acts. For example, the public, unable to get acquainted with the decisions made on high-profile cases, cannot compare them to similar legal acts; as well as to assess the courts’ consistency in qualifying facts and interpreting the law and thus, rule out or confirm doubts regarding selectiveness of justice.
The acts adopted by the court are the primary indicator for assessing the quality of justice. At the same time, access to and publicity of court decisions are parts of the right to a fair trial. The Parliament's position substantially undermines transparency of and trust in the judiciary. Moreover, such inaction violates the right of access to public information guaranteed by Article 18 of the Constitution of Georgia. Herewith, in the long run, the lack of legislative norms that regulates a balance between the freedom of information and the protection of personal data may put individuals’ right to privacy under substantial risks.
Given all the above, we call on the Parliament of Georgia to ensure proper and timely execution of the decision of the Constitutional Court of Georgia made on June 7, 2019.
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