Judiciary-NGO cooperation criticized by the Minister of Justice
The Interagency Coordination Council on Criminal Law Reform met on October 24th. At this meeting the Minister of Justice expressed Tea Tsulukiani concerns about Transparency International (TI) Georgia and the Supreme Court of Georgia cooperating in the field of regulatory development of the electronic case allocation system. NGO shall not be allowed to implement or decide things without the government’s knowledge, said the Minister. She expressed her dissatisfaction that she was not provided with prior information about this cooperation. The Secretary of the High Council of Justice supported Minister’s remarks and said he was also not aware of the cooperation.
We consider the implementation of a new electronic case allocation system as one of the most positive changes in the reform of the judiciary in recent years. The Parliament is examining legislative amendments proposed by the Ministry of Justice. Amongst these reforms are regulation for a new randomized case allocation system. Of the reforms proposed, this reform will have one of the greatest positive impacts on the transparency, accountability and fairness of the judicial process. For years the General Courts’ functioning was, and it still remains, that case allocation is entirely predictable. This kind of approach means that abuse of the case allocation system is possible, it fosters corruption and raises risks of political influence over judicial processes. The present method of case allocation is particularly problematic when it comes to high profile cases. It has repeatedly been the subject of criticism by both local non-governmental and international organizations.
We support and welcome the initiative to reform the system of case allocation. The new system will be based on the random selection principle and shall restrict court Chairpersons from intervening in cases. As a result, the new system should create an opportunity which will allow case allocation to be based on objective criteria.
The Judiciary will have to implement the new electronic system once the Parliament has adopted provisions on the random allocation of cases (Article 2, §6 of the Organic Law Bill on “Amending Georgian Organic Law on General Courts”). The High Council of Justice and its chairperson share both a distinctive responsibility in this direction. The Chairperson of the High Council of Justice (who is at the same time the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia) actively cooperates with both international organizations and local non-governmental sector (including Transparency International Georgia) in order to effectively implement the new electronic case allocation system. This cooperation is aimed at an effective process implementation. It is unclear why the Minister of Justice is critical of the open progressive and constructive relations between the CSOs and the Chief Justice.
TI Georgia has a solid practice in implementing electronic and technological management methods. In this respect, we collaborate with various agencies including the Supreme Court of Georgia. In the case of the Supreme Court of Georgia our goal is to improve openness and transparency of the Court and to support its technological development. This activity is financed by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). Our One of the most recent and successful technical projects we have conducted in collaboration with the Supreme Court is the Supreme Court’s Most Important Interpretations Search System. This system is publicly accessible. It allows any interested person to search valuable information on cases and interpretations of law. Moreover, with generous support of the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, we are working on the development of Tbilisi Court of Appeals’ electronic library.
Our only intention in this activity is to help Supreme Court in establishing this complex electronic case allocation system. We plan to develop the system by the joint effort of our staff and international experts. The software will be gifted to Supreme Court for further implementation and use. Program will be created only according laws and rules imposed by the Parliament and regulated by the High Council of Justice of Georgia, which means that our organization does not make any kind of decisions in terms of including specific features in the program.
We are highly concerned about the criticism from the Minister of Justice towards donors’ effort to increase transparency of judiciary system through Transparency International Georgia. Moreover, we believe that establishing cooperative relationships by the Chairman of the Supreme Court with different organizations is the sole discretion of court. Therefore, the statement of the Minister of Justice expressing dissatisfaction that Supreme Court did not request her consent on the cooperation framework, can be seen as interference in the workings of the court. Furthermore, abovementioned statement can hinder the process of implementation of the new system, which may encourage non progressive groups in the Court that are against the electronic case allocation system. At the same time, we welcome initiatives by the Chairman of the Supreme Court concerning active cooperation with the civil society.
We hope that the Chairman of the Supreme Court and High Council of Justice will not take into account statements of the Minister of Justice and will continue cooperation with NGOs. Transparency International Georgia is ready for close collaboration with all government branches and implementation of effective and accountable governance in Georgia.