Justice for all in Georgia
After being charged with theft, Kakha Kisishvili from Gori, Georgia, faced a potential five year jail term. Though certain of his innocence, Kakha could not afford a lawyer to defend his case and received a prison sentence.
Fortunately, however, after just a year in prison, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-supported Legal Aid Service came to Kakha's rescue, providing him with a public lawyer who got him cleared of the charges.
The Legal Aid Service is one component of a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) initiative that aims to reform Georgia's judiciary and ensure the protection of human rights and universal access to justice.
- UNDP Georgia supports the Georgian Legal Aid Service, which aims to protect human rights and provide access to justice for all Georgians.
- The Legal Aid Service currently has 11 offices and 3 consultation centres throughout Georgia.
- In 2010, the Service received more than 20,000 applications from citizens seeking legal assistance.
Ketevan Gagoeva, the public lawyer who represented Kakha, discovered a number of flaws in the investigation process.
"Kakha should have been questioned in the presence of his lawyer. Also, the evidence clearly showed that he was not involved in the theft. After I took on this case, I was able to clear him of all the charges,” she says.
Gagoeva then filed a motion requesting his client's immediate release from detention, which resulted in Kakha's freedom.
Justice reform remains a challenge in Georgia. Though the government has done a lot in the past 5 years to improve the legal process, it has a long way to go in terms of building up people’s trust in the legal system.
The establishment of the Legal Aid Service under the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance of Georgia is one important step towards that goal.
UNDP Georgia is supporting the Georgian Legal Aid Service on numerous levels, helping the service to become an effective and highly professional institution, to train lawyers across the country, and to inform and educate the public about their rights.
Deputy Head of UNDP in Georgia, Inita Paulovica, stresses the importance of a state-funded legal aid system for national minority groups and people affected by the conflict with Russia.
"UNDP helps open legal aid offices in the areas with significant minority population, and in regions with high concentration of the displaced. We also assist in raising professional standards of public attorneys. Our goal is to enable the Legal Aid Service to provide people with a lawyer – in civil, administrative and criminal cases,” she says.
Today the Legal Aid Service has 11 offices and 3 consultation centres throughout Georgia, and this year alone, the Service received more than 20,000 applications for legal advice and help. For almost all of these applicants, Legal Aid was their last hope for a fair trial.
"I spent a year in jail, falsely accused because I could not afford a lawyer. If it weren't for free legal aid, I guess I would still be in jail, even though I did not commit the crime I had been accused of," says Kakha.