Chronology of events surrounding the Constitutional Court from the 2012 parliamentary elections to the present
In the recent months, the public has witnessed tension between the Constitutional Court and high-ranking officials of the authorities. In addition, on February 29, 2016, the President of the Constitutional Court stated that the Minister of Justice had offered him a deal in return for cooperation with the authorities; in particular, in the case of close cooperation with the authorities, he and one more member of the Constitutional Court would have their status as members of the Venice Commission extended. We think that, against this background, it will be interesting to review the chronology of events that have surrounded the Constitutional Court since the 2012 parliamentary elections.
16.06.2013 – In the first months after the parliamentary elections, high-ranking government officials were distinguished by their positive statements about the Constitutional Court. In 2013, the former Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, stated during a meeting in the Constitutional Court that “It should be welcomed that the Constitutional Court is a distinguished institution and it has managed to remain “cleaner” and beyond those question marks that existed in the society in relation to the judiciary in general; so this is something that should be welcomed and for which we can express our gratitude to Mr. Giorgi [Papuashvili]. Actually, there are no question marks regarding the Constitutional Court and one can only hear positive things about it, which is very pleasant.”
13.01.2014 – When evaluating the work of the Constitutional Court, the Minister of Justice, Thea Tsulukiani, pointed out that “For years, the Constitutional Court of Georgia has been detached from political processes and quietly managed to develop its precedents and culture of sophisticated judicial reasoning. Thus, strengthening the Constitutional Court will be a more productive process.”
11.04.2014 – The authorities made the first negative statements about the Constitutional Court and its concrete judges after the Court granted the complaint of members of the Board of Trustees of the Public Broadcaster. The authorities pointed to the links of concrete judges to the previous government, questioning their impartiality. In the above-mentioned case, the object of the dispute was the constitutionality of early termination of the powers of members of the Public Broadcaster’s Board of Trustees. It should be noted that the content of the Court’s judgment fully coincided with the position that some NGOs had expressed at various stages of the examination of the corresponding legislative changes. In addition to statements of the authorities, persons dissatisfied with the Court’s judgment held a protest rally in front of the Constitutional Court which involved insulting expressions and actions towards the Court. The protesters also damaged the property of the Court. The said incident was not followed by any response of law enforcement bodies.
06.04.2015 – Protesters in front of the building of the Constitutional Court made statements containing threats of retaliation against the President of the Court and his family members. The cause of the threats was an apartment in the city of Batumi which the State had confiscated from a high-ranking official of the Aslan Abashidze government as unlawful property and later transferred to the President of the Constitutional Court. The protesters demanded that the apartment be returned to the former owner. According to the statement of the Constitutional Court, on April 7, 2015, the Court made a written appeal to the former Chief Prosecutor of Georgia, Mr. Giorgi Badashvili, and the then Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia, Mr. Vakhtang Gomelauri, although the law enforcement bodies again failed to respond in any form and did not inform the Court about the results of their activity.
18.09.2015 – The President of the Constitutional Court, Giorgi Papuashvili, stated that pressure on individual judges and their families had become a frequent occurrence, which was manifested in protests of various groups of citizens near the judges’ residential houses and verbal threats of physical abuse. He said that the pressure on the judges of the Constitutional Court was caused by the fact that the latter had granted the constitutional complaint of the former Mayor of Tbilisi, Giorgi Ugulava, which concerned the application of pre-trial detention for a period of more than nine months. The participants of one of the protests also included employees of a state-owned limited liability company. The protesters threw various objects at the judge’s house. NGOs and the President of the Venice Commission made statements about this issue, though law enforcement bodies did not respond to the aforementioned fact in any manner. In addition, the Speaker of the Parliament, Davit Usupashvili, and other political officials assessed these actions as protected by freedom of expression, while the Minister of Justice accused the Constitutional Court of procedural violations in deciding the case of Giorgi Ugulava. It should be taken into account that, according to the Georgian legislation, holding an assembly or a manifestation in front of the residential house of a judge of the Constitutional Court constitutes an administrative offence, while a threat against a judge in connection with hearing a case or delivering a decision is a criminal offence. It is also important that the terms of pre-trial detention were often criticized by international organizations.
12.10.2015 – The authorities responded harshly to the Constitutional Court’s suspending the norms (before the final judgment of the Constitutional Court) which, in the case of entry into force, would have deprived the National Bank of the authority to exercise banking supervision. Deprivation of the National Bank of the function of banking supervision had become an object of a heated political discussion before the complaint was filed in the Constitutional Court. It should be mentioned that the law that had been passed by the Parliament was vetoed by the President of Georgia. Members of the ruling coalition were accusing the President of the National Bank of having links to the previous authorities, and it can be argued that the reform was also politically motivated. TI Georgia also believed that entry of the enacted changes into force would inhibit the National Bank from fulfilling its constitutional duties. It is noteworthy that NGOs sent an amicus curiae to the Constitutional Court, expressing their support for finding the disputed norms unconstitutional.
13.11.2015 – Representatives of the authorities made extremely harsh statements after the Constitutional Court suspended a disputed norm in connection with the case of Rustavi 2 (the ruling excluded immediate enforcement of the decision of the court of first instance against the current owners of Rustavi 2 until the final decision of higher courts). In the view of the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Justice, these statements were saturated with superficial political assessments that had nothing in common with substantiated legal criticism of judicial acts. According to the coalition, in certain cases such statements may even have amounted to attempted pressure on the judiciary, which was especially dangerous in relation to the cases being heard or due to be heard by the Court. In addition, the Parliament of Georgia filed a motion to challenge two judges of the Constitutional Court who were reviewing the complaint of Rustavi 2. The Parliament of Georgia, as the respondent in the Constitutional Court, believed that a judge of the First Panel, Konstantine Vardzelashvili, and a member of the same panel, Maia Kopaleishvili, “act in a biased and unobjective manner and they are likely to display a biased attitude in delivering the final judgment” in relation to the complaint of Rustavi 2.
23.12.2015 – On the basis of the former owner’s application, the Tbilisi City Court seized the apartment that the State had transferred to the President of the Constitutional Court. On March 1, 2016, the President of the Constitutional Court stated that the Minister of Justice had offered him to resolve the problem related to the said apartment if he cooperated closely with the authorities.
20.01.2016 – The European Parliament adopted the Resolution on Association Agreements/Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA) with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine whose Article 21 concerns the Constitutional Court of Georgia. The European Parliament reminds the Government of Georgia of the statement of 22 September 2015 of the President of Venice Commission on the undue pressure exerted on judges of the Constitutional Court of Georgia and their family members and calls on the Government of Georgia to take appropriate action, “including adequate measures to protect the members of the court and their families, to investigate fully all acts of intimidation and to bring the perpetrators to justice.” The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks, also responded to this issue in his report released on January 13, 2016. The Commissioner stresses that allegations of unlawful interference with the work of judges of the Constitutional Court should be adequately dealt with and sanctioned through relevant procedures. He also recalls that the authorities should ensure a conducive work environment for judges. The statements of the authorities regarding the Constitutional Court and the threats made by groups supporting the authorities were also included as one of the critical issues in the reports of international organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
25.01.2016 – The Minister of Justice made a preliminary announcement about concrete areas in which the Ministry planned to take steps in terms of reforming the Constitutional Court. Before that, the Ministry of Justice had accused the Constitutional Court of procedural violations in deciding the case of Giorgi Ugulava. In the view of the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Justice, in the existing context, the Minister’s statement creates the feeling that this was an action caused by dissatisfaction with a specific decision of the Constitutional Court and the reaction of the governing political power.
29.02.2016 – The President of the Constitutional Court stated that the Minister of Justice had offered him a deal in return for cooperation with the authorities. In particular, if he agreed to cooperate closely with the authorities, he and one more member of the Constitutional Court would have their status as members of the Venice Commission extended, and, also, the problem related to his residential apartment would be resolved.
01.03.2016 – The Ministry of Justice published the scores of only Giorgi Papuashvili, President of the Constitutional Court, who was one of the candidates who took part in the competition for the position of a judge of the European Court of Human Rights. In addition, the Minister of Justice explained to the media why Giorgi Papuashvili had received a low score: “At the interview, we asked Giorgi Papuashvili if he felt discomfort in connection with the fact that he had received an expensive apartment from Saakashvili and left two or three infant children homeless. He said he did not feel particular discomfort. I don’t give such people high scores.”
01.03.2016 – On the basis of communication with judges, representatives of the civil society sector stated that there had been attempts to exert pressure on the President and concrete judges of the Constitutional Court.
02.03.2016 – In response to the statement of the Minister of Justice regarding the residential apartment of the President of the Constitutional Court, Giorgi Papuashvili publicized the letter he had written to the Ministers of Justice and of Economy in 2012. In this letter, the President of the Court notes that he received the apartment from the State for a token price according to law due to his being a judge; therefore, he does not have anything to do with ascertaining the lawfulness of this issue; however, in order to avoid a danger to the reputation and authority of the Constitutional Court, he is ready to cooperate with the authorities with regard to provision of the President of the Court with alterative accommodation, which automatically implies conceding the disputed apartment. In reply to this letter, both the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Economy explained that, at that moment, the President of the Court was under no obligation to concede this property and, accordingly, they had not offered him any alternative accommodation.
04.03.2016 – Eka Beselia, Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Parliament, said that the Parliament of Georgia would start discussing changes to the legislation related to the Constitutional Court from the following week. A part of the initiatives voiced by Ms. Beselia coincides with the issues previously put forward by the Minister of Justice. These issues also include the entry of judgments of the Constitutional Court into force. The ruling team believes that judgments of the Constitutional Court should enter into force after their promulgation in Legislative Herald of Georgia rather than after their announcement in the courtroom. It is noteworthy that this issue became relevant after the judgment on the case of Giorgi Ugulava. The Minister of Justice then stated that the judgment should enter into force after its promulgation in Legislative Herald of Georgia and that the Court had committed procedural violations. The Constitutional Court also made a statement on this topic, explaining that, in accordance with the legislation and the practice of the Constitutional Court of Georgia, judgments of the Court enter into force from the moment of their announcement in the courtroom and that this does not and should not depend on their promulgation by the executive branch of the government. Promulgation of judgments in Legislative Herald of Georgia serves to ensure maximum accessibility of judgments and should not be regarded as a precondition for their entry into force.