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On 25 December 2015, the High Council of Justice of Georgia, whose Secretary is Levan Murusidze, appointed Mr Murusidze as judge of the Administrative Affairs Chamber of the Court of Appeals. Levan Murusidze’s election and the entire process became a target of fierce criticism from civil society. According to the statements of different non-governmental organisations, the election of judges has been marked with serious shortcomings which have brought the legitimacy of the whole process under question. The Coalition for Transparent and Independent Judiciary demanded

the implementation of necessary reforms and a stoppage of the process of appointing judgesbefore the shortcomings were addressed.

The Chair of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Ana Natsvlishvili, talked about the existing shortcomings in the process of selecting judges on air on Rustavi 2. Of these issues, Ms Natsvlishvili made particular emphasis upon the problem regarding the Secretary of the High Council of Justice, Levan Murusidze. Ms Natsvlishvili stated: "This is an obvious conflict of interests. Levan Murusidze is both a candidate and a member of the decision-making council. The regulations of the High Council of Justice say nothing about the conflict of interests and Mr Murusidze uses this as an argument in his favour. However, it is beyond all written and non-written standards that a candidate should not be a member of his jury at the same time. Mr Murusidze is not concerned with professional ethics enough to demand self-recusation and the High Council of Justice does not discuss this issue as well."

FactCheck

took interest in the accuracy of the statement.

According to the Law of Georgia on General Courts, the High Council of Justice appoints the judges of the Court of Appeals and District (City) Courts. The procedure of the appointment of judges is regulated by the Regulation of the High Council of Justice and by Decision N1/308 of the High Council of Justice about the appointment of judges.

Both the aforementioned regulation and the decision do not include clauses about conflicts of interests or the obligation of self-recusation. However, according to the Law of Georgia on Conflict of Interests and Corruption in the Public Service, a member of the High Council of Justice is an official and, therefore, heis under the jurisdiction of that law. The principal aim of the aforementioned law is the prevention of conflicts of interests which it defines as a conflict between the private or the property interests of a public official with the interests of the public service. The law forbids the participation of a public servant in the decision-making of that process in which he has certain interests.

Additionally, even though the documents (the aforementioned regulation and decision of the High Council of Justice about the rule of appointment of judges) do not include an article about conflicts of interests, the rule for the selection of judges, approved beforehand by the Council, logically excludes that particular scenario which was enacted in Mr Murusidze’s election process; namely, according to the rule, any kind of communication (both direct and indirect) between a candidate and a member of the High Council of Justice is strictly forbidden which was clearly violated in Mr Murusidze’s case. Mr Murusidze had communication upon a daily basis with other members of the High Council of Justice who later made the decision to appoint him judge. Furthermore, he had access to confidential information about his competitors and was present at the interviews with the other candidates (he did not ask questions himself although listened in on the question and answer session) and did participate in the voting. Therefore, Mr Murusidze’s conduct could have affected the independence and integrity of the decisions of the High Council of Justice. It was not only his obligation but that of each and every member of the High Council of Justice to avoid such a situation.

Notwithstanding this controversy, the process of the appointment of new judges moved forward without any obstacles and eventually 38 judges were appointed in courts of different instances. Of note, too, is that the High Council of Justice did not even interview Levan Murusidze. It also became suspect whether or not all of the criteria as prescribed by the law concerning the appointment of judges were observed. This suspicion was also abetted by the statement of the non-judge members (Eva Gotsiridze, Vakhtang Tordia and Kakha Sopromadze) of the High Council of Justice.

According to the rule adopted by the High Council of Justice, in regard to the evaluation of candidates for judges, particular attention is paid to the candidate’s ability for being resistant to any type of pressure as well as being constantly focused in order to avoid any potential or real conflicts of interests. Additionally, the candidate’s moral and professional reputation, his authority among judicial circles and the public and his contribution to society are also collectively taken into account. The statement by the non-judge members of the High Council of Justice, however, indicates that Levan Murusidze does not meet all of these criteria as a judge. Specifically, the statement reads: "It is impossible to deny that Mr Murusidze’s public image is not very positive and it was not difficult to forecast that his appointment would be followed by a vocal public outcry. And if we take the level of trust of people towards the judiciary as a sole guideline for making our decision, Mr Murusidze’s appointment would not be justified indeed."

The paradox here is that the non-judge members of the High Council of Justice say that Levan Murusidze’s appointment was a compromise decision. According to their statement, if Mr Murusidze had not been elected, the process of the appointment of other judges could have also been hampered. As a result of Mr Murusidze’s appointment, 38 new judges were added to the judiciary system. Therein lies the compromise. The statement further reads: "The rejection of Mr Murusidze’s candidacy might have resulted in the creation of a negative attitude towards the other candidates, primarily to those backed by us, the non-judge members of the High Council of Justice. Therefore, the voting could have had a zero result."

Conclusion

The High Council of Justice, whose secretary is Levan Murusidze himself, elected Mr Murusidze as judge of the Administrative Affairs Chamber of the Court of Appeals. The decision of the members of the High Council of Justice (as public servants) contradicts the principal aim of the Law of Georgia on Conflict of Interests and Corruption in the Public Service which is the avoidance of conflicts of interests in the public service.

FactCheck concludes that Ana Natsvlishvili’s statement is TRUE.