Corruption Risks in Georgian Judiciary
Corruption Risks in Georgian Judiciary
Transparency International Georgia presented a research assessing corruption risks in the Common Courts System of Georgia. It should be stressed, that this type of research is the first of its kind in Georgia and its findings are current as of April, 2018.
Based on the research of the current situation within judicial system, the main factors that contribute to suspected cases of corruption are (a) undue influence on judicial administration by a certain dominant group of judges; and (b) structural and other weaknesses of the Georgian court system caused by flawed legislation, which have not been remedied due to deep opposition from within and outside the judiciary.
- The existing legal framework, including recent legislative amendments, serves the interests of the dominant group of judges and further strengthens its positions. The existing deficient legal framework increases the risks of corruption in the judicial system and concentrates excessive powers in the hands of the dominant group of judges. This creates opportunities for decisions to be made behind closed doors, through informal negotiations.
- The flawed procedure of selection/appointment of judges increases risks of cronyism and conflict of interest. The High Council of Justice enjoys unjustifiably broad discretion with judicial appointments, which has resulted in unsubstantiated appointments. Because of this flawed system of judicial appointments: Levan Murusidze was appointed for a three-year probationary period, while lifetime appointments were granted to Manuchar Kapanadze (Sulkhan Molashvili Case), Giorgi Goginashvili (Sergo Tetradze Case) and other judges, whose past judicial experience spoke for their inadequate professional reputation.
- There is a dominant of judges within the judiciary, mostly consisting of the HCoJ members, which has the leverage to influence judges. This group holds significant powers (e.g., launching disciplinary proceedings, appointment/removal/promotion of judges, setting salary supplements for judges, an appointment of court chairpersons), which are often exercised on the selective basis. These excessive powers enable them to influence judges, which in turn, increases opportunities for corruption. Members of the dominant group of judges are considered to include: Mikheil Chinchaladze, Irakli Shengelia, Levan Murusidze, Giorgi Mikautadze, Dimitri Gvritishvili, Levan Tevzadze, Vasil Mshvenieradze, Sergo Metopishvili, Shota Getsadze, Davit Mamiseishvili.
- A major problem is the suppression of critical opinion in the system by the dominant group of judges. An example of which was the process, when members of the Association Unity of Judges were slowly pushed out of the system. Initially, there were up to 50 active judges in the association. Currently, the Association has no acting judge members (some of the judges were not reappointed on the position after expiration of their tenure and others left the association voluntarily). Another example of suppressing critical opinion was the allegations made by Judge Irakli Shavadze.
- Distrust towards judiciary has been further damaged by the fact that for years, the institution of Court Chairperson has been dominated by a small group of judges who are regarded as the superiors to other judges. They are considered to be the members of the dominant group of judges.
- There is no efficient system of combating corruption within judiciary. Alleged criminal violations as well as disciplinary offenses are usually ignored. For example, the Prosecutor’s Office did launch an investigation into the alleged leak of judicial qualification tests in early 2016, but no information about the results has been made public. The HCoJ did not react to the misuse of court resources by former Chairman of Tbilisi Court of Appeals, Valeri Tsertsvadze, either. In 2016, Transparency International Georgia submitted a disciplinary complaint to the High Council of Justice regarding the latter case, however, the Council failed to react to the incident.
- There is a clear perception within legal professionals that corrupt deals are made in courts. Especially of concern is allegations made by the attorneys, interviewed for this research, that there are corrupt deals being made in courts. Legal professionals say that, in order to reach a ‘right’ outcome in a case, it has to be fixed with dominant judges, who are called ‘bosses’ within the system.
- The problems of Georgian judiciary are also discussed by business-associations, including big investors. Their concerns are not addressed in an efficient manner, which considerably damages the investment climate in the country. Such allegations were made regarding the case of Phillip Morris. This case, which was examined by Transparency International Georgia, gave rise to serious doubts about the fairness of the proceedings and impartiality of the court.
- Consideration of politically sensitive cases in courts did not enjoy public trust. Certain doubts have been raised about making politically motivated decisions. For example, such questions have been raised in a case of TV company Rustavi 2 and the so-called ‘cable case’.
In order to address these problems:
- Investigative bodies and HCoJ should effectively respond to alleged cases of judicial corruption, while all ongoing investigations involving the judiciary and its personnel should be promptly concluded.
- Comprehensive legislative amendments must be put in place that will curb excessive powers currently exercised by the High Council of Justice. Transparency in all key aspects of the appointment of judges must be guaranteed by law, and the institutional and functional independence of the High School of Justice must be ensured. In addition, the court chairpersons should be elected by their peer judges, instead of being appointed by the HCoJ.
- The Court Chairpersons should have powers removed that enable them to manipulate the electronic system of case assignment. Court Chairpersons should be stripped of the authority to unilaterally determine the composition of narrow specializations within panels of courts, which creates a strong risk of Chairpersons influencing case assignments in a manner contrary to the intent of the current case assignment system.
- Accountability mechanisms for judges must be strengthened. Independence guarantees for the independent Inspector of the HCoJ should be significantly strengthened. Current broad and vague grounds for disciplinary proceedings against judges must be corrected and brought into conformity with international standards.
We do hope that the findings and recommendations of this research will be considered by the members of the High Council of Justice as well as respective authorities of the executive and legislative branches.
Research Methodology: The findings of this report derive from an in-depth study of the judiciary, including a detailed examination of existing legislation, a close analysis of several high profile cases in the past few years, interviews with several knowledgeable legal professionals, and recent public opinion data on the courts. It should be specified, that the findings of this research are not based on the interviews presented in the report; instead, they merely serve the purpose of presenting general perceptions of the Georgian judiciary on the part of legal professionals.
The publication was prepared with the financial support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Transparency International Georgia is responsible for the content of the report. It might not necessarily
reflect the views of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.