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19 Jul, 2007 01:52

Georgia may ban court recordings

In Georgia a new law may ban audio and video recording in courtrooms. Representatives of Georgia's NGOs have appealed to the country's president Mikhail Saakashvili to veto the bill. Journalists say it may influence their work.

Scenes of unrest and confrontation inside court hearings have become a firm favourite of TV views in Georgia.

“We are asking the President not to close the doors of the courts to journalists. We think that the lack of public trust in the courts is neither the fault, nor the responsibility of the media,” journalist Nino Zuriashvili stressed.

While journalists themselves, along with other members of the public, will still be allowed to attend court hearings, cameras and other recording equipment will be banned, effectively repealing a law passed in 1997 when Saakashvili himself was the chair of the parliament's legal affairs committee.

The ruling party says the media attention paid to high profile trials has led to them being hijacked by opposition politicians, who deliberately provoke confrontation in order to score political points.

“The developments we have recently been witnessing have caused the amendments. The presence of TV cameras in the court room during hearings makes certain politicians decide to put on shows which we then have to watch,” said Giga Bokeria from Legal Issues Committee of Georgian Parliament.

But critics of the new law say that in a country where public confidence in the court system is low and judicial reform ongoing, this law will do more harm than good.

“Such restrictions exist in the western European countries, as well as in the United States. But we are in completely different context, in Georgia we face the huge problem of low trust of society towards the judiciary, public awareness is really low and if you want to raise awareness, if you want to raise trust of the public towards the judiciary we should do everything to have justice not only done, but it must be seen to be done,” believes Georgi Chkheidze, Georgian Young Lawyers' Association chairman.

If the law does receive presidential assent it may well spell an end to the media circus' that so often accompany high profile cases in Georgia, but it's likely to do little to boost public confidence in the independence of the court process.

If President Saakashvili turns down this appeal then the journalists will still be allowed into the courtrooms, but the viewers will have to wait outside.