Georgia's First Public Defender Office Opens in Tbilisi
TBILISI, Georgia—Georgia's first public defender office opened its doors on Saturday in the country's capital, Tbilisi. The new institution will provide legal help for criminal defendants unable to afford a lawyer. The pilot office will serve the Gldani-Nadzaladevi district of Tbilisi, reaching a population of 520,000.
Launching the office, Minister of Justice Konstantin Kemurlaria told a press conference that indigent criminal defendants would be guaranteed quality legal assistance through the bureau's seven full time defenders. The seven positions were chosen from over 120 applications.
A second pilot office opens tomorrow, Wednesday, in Zestafoni, a city of 50,000 in the Imereti region of Georgia. Both offices were established with technical assistance from the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Open Society Georgia Foundation, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and IRIS Georgia.
"The government has an obligation to ensure that indigent members of the population realize their right to be protected," said Kemurlaria, "and that the quality of legal defense is professional and effective. I am glad we selected the best of the best."
The new public attorney service is a first step in a thorough overhaul of legal aid in Georgia. An inter-ministerial body will be created to oversee the new system's creation, draft the relevant laws, and monitor its operation. The minister said that the government will increase funding for legal aid by 40 percent in 2006.
Previously, legal aid to the indigent attracted little government revenue. Attorneys' compensation was inadequate and irregular. In the new pilot office, defense attorneys will work together to provide consistent and systematic legal defense. The new lawyers will receive a fixed monthly salary.
Following the opening ceremony, the Ministry of Justice signed an agreement with the prosecutor's office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Supreme Court to institutionalize further reform. All agreed on the importance of quality legal aid to ensure the fairness of the justice system. Konstantin Kublashvili, chair of the Supreme Court, said free legal aid is critical for judges too, enabling them to base their decisions on due process and equality of arms.