Dream Court Anatomy
Before the change of the government in 2012, a strong influence of the executive branch and especially the Prosecutor’s Office, over the judiciary was a pressing problem. During this period, the courts were not independent and consideration of criminal and administrative cases was marred by systematic flaws.
After the 2012 Parliamentary Elections, one of the main promises of the winning political actor was precisely the creation of a fair court system, but the chronology of events that have unfolded so far demonstrates that Georgian Dream has failed to show a strong political will to improve the courts. Seven years after the government change, the judiciary is still ruled by the judges who have been for years associated with unfair and subjugated judicial system. The unhealthy process of nominating judicial candidates for the Supreme Court has clearly demonstrated that the court system is in serious crisis.
With the aim of identifying the reasons for this grave situation and to better demonstrate the role that the government has played in it, we have compiled a dynamic list of the key events concerning the judiciary that have unfolded between October 2012 and present:
The new government had tense relations with the judiciary. The very next day after winning the elections, Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili said that he was planning to file a lawsuit against the judge “who, during the pre-election period, made 60 illegal decisions against Georgian Dream representatives in one day”. During the same period, the courts started considering criminal cases against high-ranking political officials of the previous government. According to Bidzina Ivanishvili, the court was still being influenced at the time and was trying to create obstacles to the new government. The fact that the government reacted adversely to the large number of acquittals of the former holders of political offices is confirmed by Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani’s December 2012 statement: “The public must understand well that these people are being freed by Kublashvili’s court, not by the Prosecutor’s Office!”
6 March 2013
Vano Zardiashvili, currently a Georgian Dream MP and a person with close ties to the clan of judges, was appointed the First Deputy Auditor General.
The amendments to the First Wave judiciary reform, most of which were based on the recommendations made by non-governmental organisations, came into force. According to these amendments, the judges would be electing seven out of 15 new members of the High Council of Justice, including its Secretary.
20 May 2013
The Minister of Justice presented a draft law on the creation of a Commission on Miscarriages of Justice to identify and change [the outcomes] of the cases that were “ruled on unfairly” under the previous government. According to Tsulukiani, it was possible that some judges would be punished as a result of the work of the commission.
4 June 2013
Several days prior to the Council of Justice elections, Unity of Judges was established. The association united about 50 judges who were openly talking about the problems in the judiciary. Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani attended the launch event of the association, creating an impression than they were supported by Georgian Dream.
6 June 2013
Tea Tsulukiani said three days before the Council elections: “The Conference of Judges, where members of the Council of Justice will be elected, will be held on 9 June. The judges have a historical chance to free themselves from Kublashvili as well as Meishvili, Chinchaladze, that is to say, from the authoritarian rule of the leaders. […]”.
9-16 June 2013
The Conference of Judges elected the members of the Council of Justice; not a single judge critical [of the government] was elected. The judge who presided over the high-profile Girgvliani case, Levan Murusidze, was elected the Council of Justice Secretary.
By the decision of the majority of the judges, representatives of the clan united around Mikheil Chinchaladze and Levan Murusidze won the elections: the judges who promised immunity to their own colleagues for their past activities became Council members. Representatives of this group of judges said to their colleagues that they disagreed with the division of judges into categories (worthy and unworthy) and supported a lifetime appointment for all current judges automatically, without a competition. Supreme Court Judge Zaza Meishvili reminded his colleagues about the interview that the minister of justice gave to the press three days earlier. He said that there was a danger that decisions made by the Commission on Miscarriages of Justice could result in disciplinary penalties against judges. This rhetoric consolidated a large part of judges precisely around this group.
14 July 2013
Parliament elected four non-judicial members of the Council: Eva Gotsiridze, Vakhtang Tordia, Gocha Mamulashvili and Kakhaber Sopromadze. The non-judicial members’ vote is required for the appointment and dismissal of judges by the Council too, thus a lot depended on the members selected by Parliament.
12 July 2013
Then Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili met with Supreme Court Chairman Kote Kublashvili and new Council of Justice Secretary Levan Murusidze. Ivanishvili: “Together with Kublashvili, I met with Mr. Levan Murusidze for the first time today, he is the secretary of the Council of Justice. I once again became convinced that there is a great number of healthy, a great number of progressive people working in the judiciary”.
1 October 2013
Bidzina Ivanishvili met with Levan Murusidze again. “After a long conversation, I discovered that this young man and I share similar views, that the courts must be completely free from all kinds of influence… Once again, I cannot conceal my emotions having become convinced that there are people in the judiciary, and here I found a man who will truly take upon himself the responsibility to make the courts fair and gain prestige and public trust in the future,” Ivanishvili said after the meeting.
The rule of appointing judges for a three-year trial period came into force. According to the amendments, the Council of Justice was to perform the evaluation of the judges appointed for a trial period in order to determine whether they are worthy of a lifetime appointment.
28 November 2013
The creation of the Commission on Miscarriages of Justice was postponed indefinitely. “No one opposes the creation of the commission but the government believes that the possible economic and financial impact must be calculated very carefully. If a person is acquitted, he or she will acquire the right to make material demands, and our country is not ready for this economically and financially today,” Tea Tsulukiani said.
8 April 2014
Then Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili met with Levan Murusidze at the Council of Justice. “The involvement of the High Council of Justice in the creation of laws is necessary and inevitable, I call on the Ministry of Justice to ensure such participation as much as possible so that you [the High Council of Justice] are involved in the process,” Gharibashvili said after the meeting.
1 August 2014
The Second Wave of the judiciary reform was completed. The reform did not abolish the appointment of judges for a trial period, which made them vulnerable to the influence on the part of both the High Council of Justice and the government.
Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani presented to the Venice Commission a package of legislative amendments prepared within the framework of the Third Wave of the judiciary reform.
30 January 2015
On Levan Murusidze’s order, then First Deputy Auditor General Vano Zardiashvili’s wife, Tinatin Abralava, was appointed the head of the Department of Judicial Performance Evaluation Management at the Council of Justice. Zardiashvili himself is a former court official (deputy head of a Council of Justice department (2012-2013); Tbilisi City Court Chief of Staff (2010-2012)) and has close family and friendship ties with the clan members. Specifically, Mikheil Chinchaladze is Zardiashvili’s best man and his child’s godfather.
Nino Gvenetadze replaced Konstantine Kublashvili on the post of the Supreme Court Chairperson. On Nino Gvenetadze’s initiative, several important amendments were added to the Third Wave draft law; part of the judicial corps vehemently opposed these changes. Among others, putting the system of electronic distribution of cases and the institute of independent inspectorate became the issues of disagreement.
The government approved the renewed package of the Third Wave reform.
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili held a closed meeting with Council of Justice Secretary Levan Murusidze to hear from him the judicial corps’ remarks concerning the Third Wave judicial reform that were different from the position of the government and of Nino Gvenetadze.
5 August 2015
On request by businessman Kibar Khalvashi and Panorama, LLC owned by him, the court froze the assets of Rustavi 2 TV Company, limiting the important functions of full-fledged management available to its director and shareholders.
The hearings of the Third Wave amendment package began in Parliament.
19 October 2015
After the Third Wave draft laws prepared by the Ministry of Justice had already been initiated in Parliament, Tea Tsulukiani met with 160 judges, including Levan Murusidze. Supreme Court Chairwoman Nino Gvenetadze was not invited to the meeting. After the meeting, Tea Tsulukiani said that a whole number of issues that were included in the draft laws on the Supreme Court chairwoman’s initiative, would be reviewed.
The Council of Justice made an unauthorised decision to suspend admission to the School of Justice, thus artificially impeding the inflow of new people into the system and, instead, started re-appointing the judges, absolute majority of whom would have their 10-year term expire in 2015-2017.
The judicial corps started discussing restrictions of the freedom of expression and the establishment of the limit for “admissible critique” of a judge. Eva Gotsiridze, non-judicial member of the Council at the time, initiated this issue. Other Council members actively supported this initiative as well.
25 December 2015
Despite a strong public protest, Levan Murusidze was appointed as a judge for a three-year trial period. The appointment of the judge who presided over the most high-profile “Girgvliani murder case” in Georgia’s contemporary history to the Court of Appeals was supported by the Council members appointed by the parliamentary quota. Since that time, the Parliament-appointed members have expressed positions identical to those of judicial members on almost all issues.
29 December 2015
City Court Chairman Mamuka Akhvlediani criticized the Council of Justice and its chair: “The incorrectly selected Council and incorrect appointments of judges have created many problems which will tarnish the country for the next 20-25 years unless rectified in the nearest future.” Several days later, Mamuka Akhvlediani disseminated information about the test [questions] for judicial qualification examinations leaking from the Council of Justice. An investigation into this case was launched but its results are still unknown.
30 December 2015
Former Prime Minster Bidzina Ivanishvili, who no longer held any formal position, said: “Girgvliani was a victim of the system, things were not as they are being painted today – that it was nearly entirely done by Murusidze, such a stir is being raised.”
1 February 2016
A Conference of Judges was held where part of the judges openly expressed their support for Levan Murusidze. Statements such as “I am Levan Murusidze, too” were made. In parallel with this extraordinary Conference, a protest rally staged by the civil society and professional circles was held.
22 February 2016
Tbilisi City Court Chairman Mamuka Akhvlediani, two months after making his critical statements, was dismissed from his post by the Council of Justice amid significant procedural violations. The Parliament-appointed members supported this decision.
4 March 2016
The Council of Justice elected Giorgi Mikautadze as the new chairman of Tbilisi City Court. The session was held against the background of a protest rally staged by the civil society sector, demanding that the Council refrain from hastily electing the new chair.
16 May 2016
Tbilisi City Court convicted five high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Defence in the so-called Cables Case, sentencing them to seven years in prison. The events that unfolded around the Cables Case spurred a reasonable assumption regarding flawed administration of justice and politicisation of the process.
2 June 2016
Former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili expressed his support for Judge Levan Murusidze once again, calling him the previous government’s “system victim”.
21 November 2016
Mikheil Chinchaladze’s relative and close friend Vano Zardiashvili became an MP from the Georgian Dream list and assumed the position of the first deputy chairman of the Legal Issues Committee. After that, he actively lobbied in support of legislative initiatives which resulted in significant increase of the clan’s powers.
29 December 2016
Parliament passed the Third Wave legislative package on the third hearing. In Parliament, the text of the draft law was changed several times, unexpectedly and without public discussion. Among others, the amendments that were positively assessed by the Venice Commission eventually were not included (for example, it was decided not to adopt the procedure of electing court chairpersons with the Council of Justice reserving the right to appoint them).
In addition, several months prior to the expiration of Mikheil Chinchaladze’s 10-year term as the Supreme Court judge, an amendment was made to the draft law during the final stage [of its discussion] with procedural violations whereby a possibility of a lifetime appointment without a trial period for active and former Supreme Court judges was determined. This amendment created a suspicion that it was tailored to fit specifically Mikheil Chinchaladze.
The president vetoed the Third Wave legislative amendments package. He called on Parliament to restore in the draft law the rule of electing court chairpersons and also abolish the trial period for judicial appointments.
Parliament did not consider the president’s motivated remarks and gave the Third Wave amendments a final approval.
As a result of protracting the Third Wave reform for almost three years:
10 February 2017
Judge Vladimer Kakabadze made an unsubstantiated decision to make the Philip Morris company pay a compensation of up to GEL 93m to Tbilisi Tobacco, JSC. The suspicions that a corrupt deal may have taken place were further strengthened by secret recordings disseminated later, in which the name of former Chief Prosecutor Irakli Partskhaladze was mentioned.
2 March 2017
The Supreme Court made the decision to grant the ownership of Rustavi 2 to Kibar Khalvashi.
23 March 2017
Parliament elected Shota Kadagidze as the fifth non-judicial member of the Council of Justice. No public discussions of his candidacy were held, even though nearly nothing was known about him even within the legal circles.
8 May 2017
A protest rally was held outside the Council of Justice. A lifetime judicial appointment for Levan Murusidze was to be considered at the Council session. Eventually, the discussion of this issue was postponed.
11 May 2017
The Council of Justice, after a closed interview, granted a lifetime appointment to the Court of Appeals to Mikheil Chinchaladze, judge of the Supreme Court and its deputy chairman. The Parliament-appointed members supported this decision.
25 May 2017
Tbilisi Court of Appeals Chairman Valeri Tsertsvadze resigned from his post four months before his term in office expired.
29 May 2017
The High Council of Justice, several days prior to the expiration of the term of its current composition, appointed Mikheil Chinchaladze to the now vacant post of the Tbilisi Court of Appeals chairperson. The session of the High Council of Justice took place against the background of a rally staged by the civil society sector. The following day, the non-governmental organisations thwarted the presentation of a report prepared about the Council of Justice in protest.
21 June 2017
Parliament elected four new non-judicial members of the Council of Justice. The process failed to meet the standards of transparency and there was very little information about the new members available to the public. Most of the elected members so far have been unconditionally supporting all decisions made by the judicial members.
24 June 2017
The Council composition was overhauled. This time, there was no real competition between the judicial members, and the nominated candidates received a virtually absolute support from their colleagues without any discussions. The Conference elected Dimitri Gvritishvili, Irakli Shengelia, Vasil Mshvenieradze and Irakli Bondarenko as the Council members and Giorgi Mikautadze – as the Council Secretary.
21 September 2017
Tbilisi City Court, on 21 September 2017, imposed a GEL 3,000 fine on Fady Asly, chairman of the National Committee of the International Chamber of Commerce, for the criticism expressed with regard to the Philip Morris case.
26 September 2017
Parliament passed constitutional amendments whereby the right to nominate the Supreme Court members and chairperson was transferred to the Council of Justice.
Under the leadership of Eka Beselia, chairwoman of the Legal Issues Committee in Parliament at the time, a working group to develop the Fourth Wave judicial reform was created. From this time, Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani was removed from the judicial reform and the process was taken over by Eka Beselia. The process of working on the reform was isolated, unfolding without the participation of professional groups or civil society organisations.
20 October 2017
The renewed composition of the Council granted lifetime appointments to additional 34 judges, including active members of the clan – Dimitri Gvritishvili, Tamar Alania, Davit Mamiseishvili, Vasil Mshvenieradze, Mamia Pkhakadze, Merab Gabinashvili and Irakli Shengelia. No judge critical of the clan received a lifetime appointment.
1 December 2017
Parliament elected Eva Gotsiridze, who openly supported Levan Murusidze’s appointment as a judge, to the post of a judge of the Constitutional Court. Before being elected, Eva Gotsiridze talked about the reasons of her support for Murusidze and effectively admitted that her decision was motivated by external factors rather than the law. She explained that a large section of judges “took their cues” from Levan Murusidze, correspondingly, if he left the system, the judges of this section could identify with this and use the final years of their powers “inappropriately”.
22 February 2018
The Council of Justice granted a lifetime appointment to 44 judges. Among them was Manuchar Kapanadze, the judge who presided over the case of Sulkhan Molashvili. Then Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili made a critical remark regarding this issue.
23 February 2018
Batumi City Court Judge Irakli Shavadze made a public statement concerning the pressure that he was subjected to by the court chairman. No investigation into the case was launched.
Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze took over the Fourth Wave reform working group. The events that have been unfolding since December 2018 have demonstrated that the removal of Eka Beselia from this process was likely done purposefully.
2 August 2018
Nino Gvenetadze unexpectedly resigned from the post of the Supreme Court Chairwoman. The real reasons for this resignation are still unknown. Nino Gvenetadze has not communicated with the media.
24 December 2018
The Council of Justice, without following any procedures, as a result of an informal agreement, sent to Parliament a 10-strong list of people to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Mikheil Chinchaladze as well as Council members Dimitri Gvritishvili and Giorgi Mikautadze made it to that list.
27 December 2018
The Council of Justice granted Levan Murusidze a lifetime judicial appointment.
On the same day, with the motive of stopping the speeded-up process of approving the Supreme Court judges, Eka Beselia resigned as the Chairwoman of the Parliamentary Legal Issues Committee. Several Georgian Dream MPs, including – according to Eka Beselia’s statement – Irakli Kobakhidze, Vano Zardiashvili and several other MPs were asking her to speed up the process of considering and approving the list submitted by the clan of judges.
28 December 2018
Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze met with Council of Justice Secretary Giorgi Mikautadze. Kobakhidze said that close cooperation with the Council would continue.
12 January 2019
Irakli Kobakhidze met with Giorgi Mikautadze once again. He said that the work on the legal regulation of the selection of the Supreme Court judges would continue in a working group format. Members of the clan of judges and MPs who are considered their allies constitute an absolute majority of this group.
21 January 2019
Against the background of a strong public outcry, the Supreme Court judicial candidates addressed Parliament in a joint statement asking not to consider their candidacies. The key demand of the civil society was that Levan Murusidze and the Council members who supported the problematic 10-strong list of the Supreme Court judicial candidates would resign and leave the system.
27 January 2019
Non-governmental . Non-judicial Council members Ana Dolidze and Nazi Janezashvili as well as the representatives of opposition parties left the group. The meeting took place against the background of a protest rally held by the civil society.organisations refused to join the existing format of the Fourth Wave working group
28 January 2019
A secret recording of private nature showing MP Eka Beselia was disseminated through the internet. Eka Beselia herself linked this occurrence to her critical position towards the judiciary and said that “prohibited methods” of struggle were used against her.
5 February 2019
The Georgian Dream Political Council disseminated a statement, clearly supportive of the clan existing within the judiciary. The Political Council accused everyone who expressed a different and critical position of being politically engaged and of an “attack” against the courts “orchestrated” by the National Movement.
6 February 2019
Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, speaking on TV Pirveli, said referring to the notorious judges: “The [judicial] system has changed without changes being made to the composition, and the people who used to do bad things en masse, are now doing good things.”