A brief look at the largest political scandal in Georgia so far this year
The story concerning ten judges whose candidacies have been put forward for the Georgian Supreme Court has stirred up Georgian politics this month, causing wide rifts in the ruling political party.
The parliamentary majority, usually loyal to orders “from above”, rebelled against the candidacies of these 10 judges who have rather politicized reputations since the times of former president and head of the United National Movement party Mikheil Saakashvili.
NGOs held a rally under the slogan “Justice must be saved” on 21 January, and just a few hours later, the nominated judges issued a joint statement withdrawing their candidacies.
The non-governmental sector considers this a victory for society.
JAMnews lays out the main political scandal of 2019 so far in Georgia piece by piece.
The case of the ten judges: what they were accused of
At the end of last year on 24 December, the Council of Justice submitted a list of 10 judges to parliament whose candidacies were to be examined for spots on the Supreme Court of Justice for lifetime appointments.
The Council of Justice is an independent body which oversees and provides for independent and efficient operation of the entire justice system.
Accordingly, this body is responsible for the selection of the judiciary – however, in the case of the Supreme Court, the parliament ultimately has to give its final approval to any judge nominated.
The list was found unacceptable by the non-governmental sector, the opposition, the ombudsman and even members of the ruling team.
Many of the judges have presided over cases in the past under the former United National Movement government which were perceived as political in nature.
For example, Mikhail Chinchaladze, one on the ‘list of ten’, is mentioned in a report of Transparency International as an influential judge who created his own clan in the justice system, which “increases the risks of corruption”.
The issue has also caused the first serious split in the parliamentary majority. One of the most influential deputies, Eka Beselia, left the post of chairman of the legal committee.
Her position was also taken up by other MPs from the majority who warned that if the parliament approves such a composition of the Supreme Court, they will leave the ranks of the parliamentary majority.
The opposition is convinced that the list has been compiled by former PM and the informal ruler of the country Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is trying to subordinate judicial authority in the run up to the parliamentary elections in 2020.
Thus, the non-governmental sector launched a noisy campaign against the “list of ten”. This topic has become the main issue on various talk shows and analytical programmes of leading TV channels in the country.
“Justice needs to be saved”
On 21 January, the 10 judges wrote a joint statement announcing the withdrawal of their candidacies.
The reason for withdrawing their candidacies, the judges say, was the “unhealthy speculation” concerning their possible appointment.
This statement was released just hours after NGO representatives organized the protest outside the Council of Justice building.
“Justice needs to be saved!” was the main slogan of the protest.
The participants of the action adopted a manifesto stating that, due to various reasons, the justice system in Georgia has remained unreformed since the country gained independence in 1991.
As a result, protestors said, in Georgia to this day “it has still not been possible to form an independent judiciary”.
The manifesto contains a brief overview of the history of recent years:
The document says that the Saakashvili government, which came to power as a result of the Rose Revolution in 2003, cleared the judicial system of corruption, which flourished during the time of Georgia’s second president Eduard Shevardnadze, but completely subordinated it to the revolutionary authorities.
Before coming to power in 2012, the current ruling party Georgian Dream named the liberation of the justice system from political influences and the restoration of justice one of its priorities. However, today, even more influential and strengthened clans have begun to fill up the judicial branch, the manifesto says:
“In the justice system, power has been seized by the same group and clan, with the help of which the previous government totally controlled justice…”
“The clan has been able to staff the Supreme Court and the court of last instance with its cadres on an unlimited basis. There is a real threat that society will finally lose hope of forming an independent court, and the justice system will be subordinate to clan interests for decades.”
The fact that the court is politicized in Georgia and that it is a weak link in the entire state system is constantly written about in reports by international organizations.
Ex-President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili, who called the situation in the judicial system of the country a “crisis”, has repeatedly noted this from the parliamentary rostrum.
Margvelashvili says the main problem is that judges are greatly influenced by representatives of the authorities, because of which they cannot make independent decisions.
Representatives of the non-governmental sector believe that now is the time to consolidate the fight for judicial reform.
In their opinion, the retreat of the judges has been brought about by the activity of civil society and this is a good sign:
“It always makes sense to fight, and we will continue our fight to the end, until judges like Murusidze [one of the most controversial judges in the “list of ten”- ed] disappear from the judicial system,” said the executive director of Transparency International – Georgia, Eka Gigauri.
The same opinion is held by the opposition:
“As a result of the consolidated protest of the non-governmental sector, civil society and all sensible people, the authorities have failed to conduct a New Year’s special operation to illegally seize the entire justice system,” says one of the leaders of the European Georgia opposition party, Elena Khoshtaria.