Protection of Procedural Rights of Juvenile Defendants, Witnesses and Victims
On March 9, 2020, the Public Defender of Georgia published a special report on the protection of procedural rights of juvenile defendants, witnesses and victims in the area of criminal justice. The project was carried out on the basis of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Public Defender’s Office of Georgia and the Initiative for the Rehabilitation of Vulnerable Groups (non-commercial legal entity), with the financial support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The purpose of the project was to evaluate, by observing trials, the quality of protection of the rights of children in conflict with the law and juvenile witnesses/victims during court hearings. Trials were monitored from July to December 2019 in three major cities, namely in the City Courts of Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Rustavi.
The study identified both positive and negative aspects. It should be noted in the positive context that, as a rule, all parties were specialized in dealing with the cases involving juvenile defendants, victims and witnesses. They have the specific knowledge needed to communicate with children. Particularly positive were several judges, prosecutors and lawyers, who tried their best to speak to children in an understandable form and language, portraying them as the main subject of the process and focusing on the protection of their best interests.
However, unfortunately, the study showed that despite implementation of significant legislative changes and approaches in the area of juvenile justice, still many gaps can be found in practice that need to be immediately eliminated.
As a rule, participation of legal/procedural representatives is nominal and the frequency of involvement of psychologists is very low. There is no agency responsible for the training (specialization) of psychologists and procedural representatives (as a rule, social workers). The trials were often delayed or put off. In some cases, the lack of qualifications or skills of the parties involved was evident. In addition, the knowledge or application of international principles was not satisfactory either, as well as the quality of proper substantiation.
One of the subjects of judicial monitoring was infrastructure. It was revealed that children’s personal information/confidentiality are not always protected in the courthouses. The conditions and environment are not always child-friendly. They are usually intimidating. Unfortunately, the court infrastructure is not adapted for children with disabilities. In case of application of pre-trial detention as a measure of restraint, children are placed in the rooms incompliant with standards.
Apart from the need to eliminate the above practical shortcomings, specific recommendations were made to the Parliament, the Government, the High Council of Justice, the Prosecutor General's Office, the Bar Association/Legal Aid Service of Georgia and the Ministry of Justice to ensure that juvenile justice truly ensures the protection of child's best interests and complies with national and international standards.
Juvenile justice remains one of the top priorities of the Public Defender’s Office. Accordingly, the Office will continue to work closely with the Initiative for the Rehabilitation of Vulnerable Groups in order to eliminate the problems identified in the report.