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Chair of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Ana Natsvlishvili, discussed the problems of the judiciary on air as a guest of the talk show, Archevani.

She placed particular emphasis upon the facts of the promotion of judges without a competition process. Ms Natsvlishvili stated: "The judge who sentenced preliminary detention for people participating in the demonstration supporting Rustavi 2, even though their actions should have been judged as an administrative offense instead of a criminal one, was promoted without a competition process. Additionally, Judge Tkavadze, who ruled on the 26 May affair and sentenced imprisonment to those people who were tortured instead of paying attention to the injustices which they suffered, was also promoted. The appointment of Mr Murusidze, and other people like him, is an unequivocal signal to everyone that if you want to get promoted in the system, you have to make unjust and politically motivated decisions disguised by the law."

FactCheck

took interest in the facts of appointments of judges without a competition process.

Article 37 of the Organic Law on General Courts of Georgia stipulates that the High Council of Justice of Georgia is authorised to appoint (and promote) a selected judge as a judge of a different court. However, the aforementioned law does not define the rules and procedures for appointment without a competition process which has resulted in an accumulation of distrust and irritation among the public towards the High Council of Justice over the last several years. According to information

received by the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) from the High Council of Justice, 27 judges were appointed without a competition process in Georgia in 2011. In 2012 and 2013, 68 and 26 judges, respectively, were appointed to their positions without a competition process. The IDFI was unable to receive information from the High Council of Justice concerning the statistics for 2014.

The High Council of Justice exercised its right to appoint judges without a competition process several times in 2015, too. The first case was in August when the High Council of Justice transferred six judges from district courts to Tbilisi City Court.

  1. Administrative Cases Panel of Tbilisi City Court – Judges Nino Buachidze and Ekaterine Jinchvelashvili
  2. Civil Cases Panel of Tbilisi City Court – Judges Ana Chogovadze and Tariel Tabatadze
  3. Criminal Cases Panel of Tbilisi City Court – Judges Gogita Totosashvili and Vakhtang Mrelashvili. Judge Mrelashvili judged the cases of Gigi Ugulava, Erekle Kodua and Ivane Merabishvili.
As we have already mentioned, the most important aspect about the appointment of judges without a competition process is its procedure which is not defined by the law. On 4 August 2015, the High Council of Justice published information on its website about the launching of a process to transfer judges to vacant places. The announcement stated that the deadline for the applicants to submit their own applications was set at 5-6 August whilst the process of the transfer of six judges to Tbilisi City Court had been completed by 7 August 2015. The High Council of Justice’s appointment of judges without a competition process (when most of the judges were on vacation and, therefore, without information concerning the transfer process) and within a hasty manner has raised numerous questions. A statement

by the IDFI reads: "Certain members of the Council as well as the Chairman of the Supreme Court of Georgia had reasonable doubts to argue that the process was held in violation of proper procedures and the decision made was not objective."

The High Council of Justice again exercised its right to appoint judges without a competition process in October 2015. On 28 September 2015, a meeting of the High Council of Justice was held where the topic of the appointment/transfer of judges to 68 vacant positions among Georgia’s general courts was discussed. Member judges of the High Council of Justice proposed the transferring (promoting) of judges from courts of first instance to the ten vacant places at the Tbilisi Court of Appeals without a competition process as well as the appointment of the remaining 58 judges by means of a competition. The decision received 11 votes of the members of the High Council of Justice but failed, however, to receive the approval of the Head of the High Council of Justice, Nino Gvenetadze.

Eventually, the number of judges who were to be appointed without a competition process was cut to seven with the deadline for candidates to submit their own applications set at 6 October according to a decision of the High Council of Justice. As a result of the active involvement of the public, the High Council of Justice amended its regulation on 19 October 2015 and subsequently defined the rules and procedures for the appointment of a judge to a different court without a competition process. Based upon these changes, the decision of 28 September was annulled and a new call was announced in order to fill the vacancies by appointments and without a competition process. However, based upon the new decision, those applications which had already been submitted by the candidates were ruled to be valid.

On 16 November 2015, the High Council of Justice decided to promote seven judges who were appointed as judges of the Court of Appeals.

  1. Chamber of Administrative Cases: Judges Amiran Dzabunidze, Shota Getsadze (who was an initiator of the dismissal of a member of the High Council of Justice and the Chair of Tbilisi City Court, Mamuka Akhvlediani) and Giorgi Tkavadze (the judge of the so-called "26 May Affair")
  2. Chamber of Civil Cases: Judge Ana Gogishvili (the judge of the so-called “Maestro Affair” emanating from the lawsuit filed by Baia Gadabadze)
  3. Chamber of Criminal Cases: Judges Gela Kiria and Natia Barbakadze (Ms Barbakadze was the judge who found Ivane Merabishvili guilty. Additionally, she sentenced a two-month preliminary detention to members of the Free Zone – Nikoloz Narsia, Mirian Deisadze and Kakhaber Gabunia – who protested in support of Rustavi 2 in Kutaisi)
  4. Investigative Panel of the Tbilisi Court of Appeals: Judge Giorgi Mirotadze (the judge in the Gigi Ugulava case)

According to the statement of the Public Defender of Georgia, the staff of the Public Defender’s Office demanded the improvement of legal regulations together with the taking into account of the results of the monitoring which they carried out. The statement of the Public Defender reads: "Of those seven judges who were promoted to appointments in the Tbilisi Court of Appeals, the Public Defender had specific questions about specific cases with two of them (the Public Defender addressed the High Council of Justice with the recommendation to start disciplinary proceedings against those judges)."

The High Council of Justice did not take the aforementioned recommendation into account and did not stop the process of the appointment of judges without a competition process. The statement, published by the High Council of Justice, reads: "The admonition that the High Council of Justice did not postpone the voting procedure before the consideration of materials received from the Office of the Public Defender is irrelevant. Those materials were submitted to the High Council of Justice two days before voting and some of the members of the High Council of Justice became aware of this fact before or on the day of voting. In such a situation, it would have been unwise to stop the procedure which was carried out in accordance with the law and close to completion and, on the contrary, wait for an unspecified amount of time until the information contained in the material had undergone the respective legal inquiry and the results became available."

Conclusion

The appointment of judges without a competition process has repeatedly been the subject of criticism from the public. In 2015, the High Council of Justice used its right to appoint judges without a competition process on two occasions (in total, 13 judges were appointed) with the process having been marked with controversies both times. Especially significant was the incident in October-November 2015 when seven judges were promoted and appointed as judges of the Tbilisi Court of Appeals. It is true, however, that the High Council of Justice had already included the rule of the appointment of judges without a competition process into its regulation in this case and made the decision to promote the judges based upon that amendment. This stated, however, the public still believes that the procedure was not transparent and had deficiencies. The High Council of Justice did not take the respective recommendations of the Public Defender of Georgia into account.

FactCheck concludes that Ana Natsvlishvili’s statement is TRUE.