Who are the new non-judge members of the High Council of Justice, and what are their connections
On May 17, the Parliament of Georgia elected three non-judge members of the High Council of Justice (HCoJ) - Tristan Benashvili, Giorgi Gzobava, and Zurab Guraspashvili. After June 2021, the HCoJ has been functioning without five non-judge members. The election of independent and qualified non-judge members of the HCoJ, along with the in-depth reform of the HCoJ, is one of the recommendations issued by the European Commission for getting EU membership candidate status.
The interviews with Tristan Benashvili, Giorgi Gzobava, and Zurab Guraspashvili showed that they do not see the main challenges in the system. In addition, from studying their biographies, the connections of these persons with US-sanctioned judges Mikheil Chinchaladze, Levan Murusidze, and Irakli Shengelia were revealed. Accordingly, their election to the HCoJ will further strengthen the positions of a clan of influential judges. It will not contribute to the health of the judicial system, which harms the country's European integration process. This process has shown once again that the ruling party continues to support a clan existing in the judicial system and helps it keep power. Unfortunately, the new HCoJ members had the support of some opposition MPs.
Before becoming a member of the HCoJ, he was the head of the investigative division of the General Inspection of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Two organizations nominated Zurab Guraspashvili as a candidate for the non-judge membership of the HCoJ. More specifically, these were two N(N)LEs - "Civil Development Society" and "Public Programming Foundation." Information about these organizations' activities is not available in public sources.
Connections with the influential and sanctioned judges:
- In 2006-2010, Zurab Guraspashvili was a prosecutor of the Isani-Samgori district prosecutor's office in Tbilisi. Precisely during this period, Giorgi Mikautadze, one of the members of the clan of influential judges and the deputy chairman of the Supreme Court, worked in the Isani-Samgori district prosecutor's office;
Irakli Shengelia and Levan Tevzadze
- Monitoring of Zurab Guraspashvili's and his wife's Facebook profiles showed that they have ties with the sanctioned judge of the Tbilisi Court of Appeal, Irakli Shengelia, and his wife, Lana Tevzadze. It should be noted that Lana Tevzadze is a sister of Levan Tevzadze, a member of the group of influential judges.
- Guraspashvili and Irakli Shengelia worked at the Isani-Samgori district prosecutor's office at the same time.
In addition, from Zurab Guraspashvili's declaration, it is clear that his wife, Tamar Bliadze, was the session secretary of the Administrative Affairs Chamber of the Tbilisi Court of Appeal until May 2022, and from May 2022, she was promoted to assistant judge; Tamar Bliadze started working at the Tbilisi Court of Appeal in 2017 as a courier and became a session secretary in 2019.
Zurab Guraspashvili did not talk about the fundamental challenges in the system during his public interview in the parliament:
- Guraspashvili named the overcrowding of the court and the technical adaptation of the court buildings as the main challenges in the court system.
- During the interview, he said the judicial system was entirely independent today. According to him, the judicial system has been strengthened, which has led to a decrease in the number of appeals by citizens to the European Court of Human Rights.
Before becoming a member of the HCoJ, he was a barrister and a member of the Georgian Bar Association.
N(N)LE "Young Barristers" nominated Giorgi Gzobava's candidacy to the parliament.
- This organization is often called an activist of the Georgian Dream.
- In 2017, Tinatin Nibloshvili, the founder of "Young Barristers", was third on the Georgian Dream proportional list of the Tbilisi City Council elections. Tinatin Nibloshvili has been a member of the City Council since 2017. In addition, since 2021, she has been holding the position of deputy chairman of the City Council.
- In 2017, "Young Barristers" also nominated Shota Kadagidze, a former HCoJ non-judge member and a clan supporter in court. He has been involved in nearly every decision that has harmed the judiciary over the years, including in 2018, endorsing a problematic list of 10 nominees for the Supreme Court.
"Young Barristers" had no right to nominate a candidate to the parliament. According to the legislation, the organization has the right to nominate a candidate for HCoJ membership if one of the fields of its activity during the last two years before the announcement of the competition was the exercise of representative powers in courts. In the documentation submitted by Giorgi Gzobava, such court decisions were presented to confirm "Young Barristers" representative authority, where the organization did not exercise representative authority but was a party itself in court.
As the documentation submitted to the parliament and obtained by us proves that "Young Barristers" did not have the right to nominate a candidate for HCoJ membership, the election of Giorgi Gzobava as an HCoJ member by the parliament is a clear violation of the law.
Giorgi Gzobava did not talk about the fundamental challenges in the system during his public interview in the parliament:
- Giorgi Gzobava focused only on technical and logistical problems in the judicial system, such as insufficient courtrooms, lack of interpreters, computer errors, and others.
Before becoming a member of the HCoJ, he worked in the National Energy and Water Supply Regulatory Commission.
Eastern European University and the Copyright Association of Georgia nominated Tristan Benashvili's candidacy to the parliament.
Connections with the influential and sanctioned judges:
- In 1999-2004, Tristan Benashvili worked with US-sanctioned judges Mikheil Chinchaladze, Levan Murusidze and Irakli Shengelia in Tbilisi District Court.
During the interview, Benashvili was not critical of the current situation in the judicial system:
- He positively assessed the selection process of Supreme Court judges and its transparency, as well as the new rule introduced by the legislative amendments of December 30, 2021, which, among other things, makes it possible for judges to be seconded without their consent. The Venice Commission severely criticized this rule.
- Benashvili identified the overcrowding of the court and the shortage of judges as the main challenges in the judicial system. He also said that public trust in the court is high, confirmed by the high number of appeals.