Question on the event
Ambassador Degnan: Today’s event hosted by USAID marks the 19th anniversary of Judges’ Day, bringing together law students and judges who to recognize the judges who are working to improve and strengthen an independent judicial system here in Georgia. Judges play an essential role in the independence judicial system, and in those, the strength of a democracy. So it was very important to have these young law students have the chance to talk to judges here about the role that they play and the importance of an independent, impartial judiciary. The United States Embassy is very proud to be able to support this, and we will continue our work to help Georgia build a truly independent, impartial judicial system.
Question on today’s court ruling
Ambassador Degnan: Well, the ruling today is obviously very important and on many peoples’ minds. I am not in a position to comment on the merits of the case, but I will say that this case from the beginning has raised questions about the timing of the case, about the charges in the case, about the process for people to have in Georgia to have confidence in, that the verdict is fair. They need to be sure that there has not been any political interference or selective prosecution: even the perception that there is political interference or selective prosecution undermines the public’s confidence in the outcome of cases such as this. That is why it is very important that the work we are doing today to emphasize the need for Georgia to continue reforms that will make the judiciary stronger, more independent, more impartial must continue. Georgia has made important progress over the last 20 years with building its judicial system, and that work needs to continue.
Question on today’s ruling and its effect on Georgia’s Western aspirations
Ambassador Degnan: The U S Embassy has been following this case for years. Obviously this is a case that has gone through a lot of different phases, and we were following it at every phase. We are not the only ones who had questions about it. The Public Defender has filed questions about it. Others who have been monitoring the case over the years have also filed questions about it. The point is when the public has questions about the outcome and does not have answers – even if they don’t agree with the verdict – they need to be confident that it was fair and that it was reached through an independent, impartial process. That is what is critical to having a confidence in your judicial system as a whole. When a case involves media it becomes even more important that it be transparent, that it be very clear that it was handled in an independent and impartial manner, because then you have two key constitutional principles at stake – media freedom, and the right to a fair trial. It is just essential in this environment, in Georgia, where everyone is so quick to attack each other, and there’s so little effort made to even hear the other perspective or understand it, that there would be respect given to the fact that there are these fundamental principles that need to be respected like media freedom, like a fair trial, like the avoidance of any perception of political interference with the judiciary or selective prosecution. That is just fundamental. And I am sure that this is the kind of thing that Georgia is working hard to strengthen and improve as it proceeds down its Euro Atlantic path. We all want to see Georgia succeed with its membership, its aspirations for the European Union and NATO. We’re all here working for that outcome. The kinds of reforms that will give the public confidence in their judicial system are key to that process.