The Chair of the Supreme Court of Georgia, Nino Gvenetadze, on air on the Georgian Public Broadcaster, discussed the ongoing reforms in the Georgian justice system and emphasised the role of the institution of independent inspectors. The launching of this institution aims at eradicating the shortcomings in the course of disciplinary proceedings concerning judges. Ms Gvenetadze stated that: "After studying the statistics, we discovered that the Disciplinary Committee, which is the principal body for investigating the disciplinary misconduct of judges, has practically not been functioning, especially since 2012. This might have two possible meanings – either our court system has an impeccable work record against the background of so many cases or the Disciplinary Committee has a very relaxed and easy attitude toward judges."

FactCheck

took interest in the accuracy of the statement.

The Law of Georgia on the Disciplinary Liabilities of the Judges of the Common Courts of Georgia and Disciplinary Proceedings defines the rule for disciplinary proceedings. According to the rule, the High Council of Justice of Georgia initiates proceedings and a preliminary verification of the case after a complaint or an application is submitted or when some other information is obtained. If the case is validated, disciplinary proceedings are launched after which the case is either closed or transferred to the Disciplinary Committee of the Judges of the Common Courts. The Disciplinary Committee will rule whether or not the judge did indeed commit an act of disciplinary misconduct; in the case of an act of misconduct, the Committee is authorised to pronounce a guilty verdict and impose a disciplinary penalty against the judge.

The statistics of the cases considered by the Disciplinary Committee of the Judges of the Common Courts of Georgia are published on the website of the Disciplinary Committee. We can see that after 2012, only four cases were submitted to the Disciplinary Committee.

Submitted Cases Cases from Previous Years Considered For Consideration
2004 45 0 17 28
2005 86 28 87 24
2006 56 24 78 2
2007 24 2 11 15
2008 33 15 23 25
2009 19 25 44 0
2010 30 0 5 25
2011 2 25 25 2
2012 4 2 4 2
2013 0 2 2 0
2014 0 0 0 0
2015 0 0 0 0

Considering the fact that it is the High Council of Justice of Georgia which transfers cases to the Disciplinary Committee, there might be several possible explanations for the scarcity of Disciplinary Committee cases:  the possible lack of complaints within the High Council of Justice, invalid complaints (this results in the closure of proceedings with the case not transferred to the Disciplinary Committee), the High Council of Justice’s ineffective work or a combination of all of these factors.

FactCheck tried to determine which of the aforementioned factors could possibly be the reason for the low number of Disciplinary Committee cases. To this end, we verified the statistics

of the cases considered by the High Council of Justice. The study demonstrated that the number of complaints dropped after 2012.

2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
45 83 1851 1216 1150 1091 1053 880 844 239 212

In order to understand the reason behind the decrease in the number of complaints sent to the High Council of Justice, FactCheck

sought to obtain information from the High Council about the specific types of complaints that have been prevalent throughout the previous years, the grounds for submitting a complaint and upon whose initiation proceedings would begin. Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain this information. The High Council of Justice stated that it does not systematise this sort of information and added that the processing of such details would take an enormous amount of time and human resources. Of further note is the fact that the High Council of Justice responded to our letter in violation of the deadline prescribed by the Law on Public Information.

Besides the fact that the number of complaints submitted to the High Council of Justice dropped, the statistics also demonstrate that the High Council of Justice decided to stop proceedings in most of the cases throughout the period of 2013-2014. In other cases, they were unable to finish the proceedings and, therefore, the cases were not transferred to the Disciplinary Committee.

Submitted Complaint Cases from Previous Year Case Closed Private Recommendation Letter Proper Response to Complaint Not Finished
2012 244 61 201 15 620 69
2013 239 54 52 7 0 217
2014 211 179 286 17 72

According to the information, more than half of the cases (57%) considered by the High Council of Justice in the period of 2012-2014 were closed. As we have mentioned earlier, a case is closed if it is ruled not to be validated; that is, there is no legal ground for further proceedings. Therefore, one of the reasons why the High Council of Justice has not transferred cases to the Disciplinary Committee is a lack of sufficient legal ground. The 2014 Report of the Public Defender of Georgia states: "Throughout the year, the Public Defender has addressed the High Council of Justice multiple times to launch disciplinary proceedings against those judges who have grossly violated procedural norms during court hearings. Unfortunately, the High Council of Justice has issued the same template response in every case that the respective misconduct of the judges was not confirmed."

Nino Gvenetadze also underlines the ineffectiveness of the High Council of Justice and its inability to make decisions. She stated that: "At the present moment, the High Council of Justice has eight cases for consideration. Those cases have passed the validation stage but because of a lack of the necessary votes for the decision (two-thirds of the total members of the High Council of Justice), those cases were neither transferred to the Disciplinary Committee nor closed. Often, those cases are referred to as ‘nobody-cares-cases". Of note is the recommendation of the Venice Commission which says that it would be better to have a simple majority instead of a qualified majority to makes a decision because while a qualified majority does not stop the decision, the entire process of an effective disciplinary proceeding is delayed and there is the danger that a only a small amount of complaints will be considered. However, in spite of this recommendation, Ms Gvenetadze believes that: "It is appropriate to retain the two-thirds majority rule to make a decision. At the same time, the principle of the defence of the decision must be introduced."

FactCheck

’s research illustrates that in the period of 2012-2014 the number of complaints submitted to the High Council of Justice decreased. According to Nino Gvenetadze, one of the reasons behind this is that citizens have lost trust in the process of disciplinary proceedings. However, there was no respective large-scale study conducted which would have determined the real attitudes of citizens with Ms Gvenetadze’s assumption being based upon the opinions of several lawyers. Additionally, the High Council of Justice does not systematise this sort of information which might be useful for understanding the principal reason behind the paucity of complaints submitted to the High Council of Justice.

Of note is that if the problem is the low level of the trust of citizens in the High Council of Justice, then the question might arise of whether or not the introduction of the institution of independent inspectors would ensure the building of trust because the independent inspector is just an additional player in the process whilst the High Council of Justice still remains responsible for transferring cases to the Disciplinary Committee. The introduction of the institution of independent inspectors in turn causes a dissatisfaction among judges who believe that the real aim of the institution might be to put pressure on judges.

Conclusion

In her phrase that the Disciplinary Committee "has not been functioning," Nino Gvenetadze meant that the High Council of Justice has practically not transferred a case to the Disciplinary Committee. Indeed, the Disciplinary Committee which is the ruling body for the disciplinary misconduct of judges considered only two cases in 2013 whilst in 2014 and so far in 2015 not a single case has been considered.

FactCheck concludes that the statement of the Chair of the Supreme Court of Georgia is TRUE.

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