Chairwoman Hautala sent on 28th of March a letter to the Ambassador of Georgia to the EU, expressing concern over the reports over persecution of lawyers and restrictions on access to justice. [:]
H.E. Ms Salome Samadashvili
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Mission of Georgia to the European Union
Avenue de Tervuren, 62
Further to our meeting in Strasbourg I am writing to you in connection with correspondence that we have received from the Chairman of the Georgian Bar Association, informing us about the working conditions of lawyers in your country. We wish to express our concern over the allegations contained therein, which suggest a climate of persecution of lawyers and the impediment of their clients’ access to justice, and request you to provide us with further information and your government’s position on the following issues:
Firstly, as regards the persecution of lawyers in Georgia, the information provided to us indicates that since 2003, 111 lawyers have been found guilty of a criminal offence – of whom 72 within the last three years – out of around 3300 members of the Georgian Bar Association. A substantial number of these criminal convictions moreover relates to the charge of having provided inadequate services; in this context allegations of clients being pressured to testify against their former lawyers have arisen. We are worried about this evolution and would like more information and your position on the reasons for this extraordinarily high (and rising) incidence of criminal proceedings instituted against lawyers, the nature of the charges levelled against them and the allegations of pressure exerted on witnesses.
Furthermore, we have received accusations of lawyers having become the object of intimidation and violence. As regards the former, besides the institution of criminal proceedings, it appears that pressure is exercised through arbitrary arrests and searches. As regards the latter, incidents of lawyers being assaulted and beaten by the police are reported. These were moreover not duly investigated. We wish to express our concern over these serious allegations, in regard to both the incidents themselves and the apparent lack of investigation. We would appreciate more information on the incidence of intimidation and violence against lawyers, as well as on the follow up of these cases.
Secondly, it appears the lawyers’ difficult working conditions impede their clients’ access to justice. Lawyers are subjected to humiliating and overly detailed searches upon entering detention and correctional facilities to meet their clients; Article 4 of Decree No. 89 moreover creates an additional artificial threshold by limiting the capacity to one prisoner per visit, requiring defenders to go through the lengthy and degrading admission procedures repeatedly. Furthermore, there appears to be a lack of respect for the confidentiality of the lawyer-client relationship, as regards both the interviews carried out inside the prisons and the lawyer’s notes and case documents. Lastly, pressure exercised on defendants as to their choice of lawyer combined with the quasi-systematic use of plea-bargaining and weak legal protection of the rights of the defenders themselves seems to effectively marginalize the role of criminal defense attorneys in the proceedings.
We are concerned at these apparent obstructions to the proper administration of justice and would like more information on the above-mentioned issues and your legislative and other policies aiming to safeguard this essential civil right.
We wish to reiterate the importance that the European Parliament attaches to the unobstructed exercise of all human rights and consider the maintenance of a constructive dialogue on these issues of the utmost importance.