European Court to decide whether Georgian Government’s restrictions on access to criminal case materials violate freedom of expression
On 8 September 2016, the European Court of Human Rights (European Court) requested that the Georgian Government provide its observations on a case regarding restrictions on an NGO’s and journalist’s access to criminal case files for investigative purposes. The applicants in this case, Studio Monitor (NGO) and Nino Zuriashvili, are represented by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), based at Middlesex University, and the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (Tbilisi).
Studio Monitor is an NGO, co-founded by Nino Zuriashvili, which aims to protect human rights and democracy through investigative journalism. In 2007, the organisation opened an investigation into the phenomenon of ‘professional victims’ in criminal cases after it noticed that a small group of individuals would consistently appear as victims in several unrelated criminal cases. Ms. Zuriashvili submitted a request to Khashuri District Court (District Court) to access the relevant materials in one criminal case, in which the proceedings had already been terminated. The District Court refused her this access, stating that public disclosure of certain documents was not allowed by law and contained personal data, which could not be made public without the consent of those concerned. However, she lodged a complaint, challenging the District Court’s decision, on the basis that the criminal proceedings in question had been terminated, the law was not applicable in this instance and personal data could be removed or anonymised in the materials.
In their application before the European Court, Studio Monitor and Ms. Zuriashvili submit that the decision to refuse them access to the materials in the criminal case, which was indispensable for their journalistic investigation, violated their right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case highlights the importance of freedom of expression, freedom of information, and public and journalists’ access to case materials that have been reasonably requested. The Government must respond to the European Court’s communication of this case by 17 January 2017, following which the applicants will be invited to submit their comments on the Government’s response.