On December 7, an observer from the Democracy Research Institute, along with other persons wishing to attend the trial of protesters detained during a rally near Parliament’s back entrance on November 28, was prevented by Tbilisi City Court Judge Natia Merabishvili from attending the trial. It should be noted that the trial was in fact closed with the above decision.
According to the Constitution of Georgia, a case shall be considered in court at an open session. The hearing of a case at the closed session is allowed only in certain cases prescribed by law. According to the recommendations approved by the High Council of Justice for common courts on December 1, 2020 for the purpose of preventing the spread of Covid-19, the number of persons present at the hearing, including media representatives, should be limited according to the 2-meter distance and relevant signs (stickers) should be placed on chairs for this purpose. This recommendation does not imply a complete ban on attendance at the hearing, which would contradict the requirements of law and the fundamental principles of the functioning of an accountable court in a democratic society.
It is important to note that from September to November 2020, observers from the Democracy Research Institute attended trials of similar content without significant hindrance. Accordingly, given that the judge did not present any arguments on the impossibility of full implementation of the recommendations aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 at the trial on 7 December, we consider that the judge’s decision was unlawful and unjustified.
During the monitoring of the trial of persons detained at the rallies and demonstrations, other important circumstances were also revealed. The hearing started a few hours late. In addition, the demonstrators had not been notified of the exact time of the start of the hearing, while their witnesses were not allowed in the courthouse under the pretext of the restrictions related to Covid-19. Accordingly, the defendants and their representatives, together with witnesses, had to wait for the start of the hearing in the open air, in the cold of December, for 3-4 hours.
The Democracy Research Institute believes that the actual closure of the trials of protesters detained during political rallies regardless of the legitimate public interest in the case undermines confidence in the court proceedings and public institutions.
 Paragraph 3 of Article 62 of the Constitution of Georgia.
 Recommendations of the High Council of Justice of December 1, 2020, available at: http://hcoj.gov.ge/ge/iustitsiis-umaghlesi-sabchos-rekomendatsiebi/3748
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