Irakli Gharibashvili: “Georgia’s current judicial system is far ahead of the judicial systems of the European Union member states and this is confirmed by all of the studies.”
Verdict: FactCheck concludes that Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement is a MANIPULATION.
Resume: All rankings and reports provided in this article prove that judicial independence remains as one of Georgia’s key challenges. In the last years’ reports, there are increasingly frequent mentions of the “judicial clan,” political bias and the influence of the ruling party in the judiciary.
Notwithstanding these harsh assessments vis-à-vis Georgia’s judiciary, some of the international rankings assess Georgia’s judiciary more favourably as compared to the judiciaries of some of the European Union member states. Based on rankings reviewed in this article, we may say that in most cases, only Hungary’s and Bulgaria’s courts are assessed to be worse than those of Georgia’s. Irakli Gharibashvili uses these very cases for manipulation in his statement. The Prime Minister of Georgia emphasises only the fact that Georgia’s judicial system is assessed to be better as compared to the judicial systems of some European Union member states.
On 31 August 2021, the ruling party leaders, Irakli Gharibashvili and Irakli Kobakhidze, stated that the Government of Georgia decided to refrain from taking the second instalment of EU financial assistance. The Prime Minister of Georgia and the Chairperson of the Georgian Dream party said that the decreased foreign debt and the rapid economic growth in the first quarter of 2021 were the reasons behind this decision.
In response to the decision of the Government of Georgia, the Delegation of the European Union to Georgia hosted a special briefing on 31 August 2021. According to the EU’s statement: “The European Union takes note of the reasoning provided by the Georgian Government on their decision not to ask for the rest of the EU’s macro-financial assistance. Whilst we respect the decision of the Georgian authorities, at the same time, we note that Georgia failed to sufficiently address the condition for this macro-financial assistance and, notably, to increase the independence, accountability and quality of the judicial system.”
On 1 September 2021, in response to the statements issued by the EU Delegation to Georgia and some European Parliament MPs, Irakli Gharibashvili stated: “Georgia’s current judicial system is far ahead of the judicial systems of the European Union member states.”
Rule of Law Index – WJP
The Rule of Law Index is the annual ranking of the World Justice Project international organisation. This ranking provides an assessment of countries based on eight main criteria such as: limited government powers, the absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice. These factors are further disaggregated into 44 indicators. The scores range from 0 to 1 with 1 indicating the strongest adherence to the rule of law. In terms of the Rule of Law Index, Georgia garnered 0.6 of a point in 2020 and was ranked 42nd in the world ranking. As compared to the previous year, Georgia’s assessment dropped by 0.01 of a point and the country lost one position. According to the 2020 Rule of Law Index, Georgia is ahead of only two EU countries, Bulgaria and Hungary. The assessment worsened as a result of poor performance in the components of corruption, open government, limited government powers and fundamental rights. Of note is that Georgia’s 2020 ranking returned to the 2014 level whilst the country lost 11 position in the ranking in the last six years. According to the Rule of Law Index, Georgia was ranked at its highest in 2015, although its position has been constantly worsening in subsequent period. According to the 2020 index, Georgia’s scores dropped in the components of limited government powers, corruption, open government, fundamental rights and civil justice as compared to the previous year.
Table 1: Georgia’s Scores According to the Rule of Law Index, 2014-2020
Source: World Justice Project
In addition, Georgia’s score has also worsened in the components of civil and criminal justice. According to the civil justice indicator, Georgia garnered 0.53 of a point in 2020 and was ranked 67th in the world. With this indicator, Georgia is ahead of only one EU member state, Hungary. Georgia’s best score in the component of civil justice was in 2015 when the country garnered 0.63 of a point and was ranked 26th in the world.
Table 2: Georgia’s Scores According to the Civil Justice Indicator of the Rule of Law Index in 2015-2020
Source: World Justice Project
In 2020, Georgia garnered 0.52 of a point based on the criminal justice indicator and was ranked 46th in the world, overtaking four EU member states – Croatia, Greece, Bulgaria and Hungary – with this result.
Table 3: Georgia’s Scores According to the Criminal Justice Indicator in the Rule of Law Index in 2015-2020
Source: World Justice Project
As illustrated by Table 3, Georgia’s best performance in terms of the criminal justice indicator was in 2016 whilst the country was ranked at its highest in 2015.
Index of Economic Freedom
The Index of Economic Freedom is the annual ranking of the Heritage Foundation. The ranking is determined on the basis of 12 different criteria such as: property rights, judicial effectiveness, government integrity, tax burden, government spending, business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom and fiscal freedom. Each of these parameters is ranked between 0 and 100 points where 100 means the best indicator.
According to the 2021 report of the Index of Economic Freedom, Georgia garnered 77.2 points and again kept its 12th position in the ranking. The 2021 ranking is thus far the best result for Georgia (see Table 4). The 2021 ranking of the Index of Economic Freedom reflects data from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020. Therefore, the 20-21 June 2019 events and the processes unfolding in the wake of the 31 October 2020 parliamentary elections are not reflected in this ranking.
Table 4: Georgia’s Scores in the Index of Economic Freedom Ranking in 2012-2020
Source: Heritage Foundation
The 2021 total score for Georgia is the highest thus far. However, of note is that Georgia had its best results in different years based on various criteria. For instance, in terms of judicial effectiveness, Georgia garnered 59.3 points in 2021 which is 7.2 points less as compared to 2016’s score. In addition, Georgia has moved from the category of mostly free countries to moderately free countries since 2018. Together with this backsliding, of additional note is that Georgia has achieved significant progress in terms of property rights since 2016 and achieved the highest score of 68.6 points in this category in 2020.
According to the Index of Economic Report 2021 ranking, Georgia has better scores in terms of judicial effectiveness as compared to 11 EU member states. However, of mention is that Georgia’s score is 0.7 of a point lower as compared to the average score of the European Union countries.
Table 5: Georgia and EU Member States’ Scores According to the Index of Economic Freedom 2021 Ranking
Source: Heritage Foundation
Human Freedom Index
The Human Freedom Index is the annual ranking of the Fraser Institute. The index uses 76 indicators for 12 areas (including the rule of law, property rights and the legal system). The index scores range from 0 to 1 where 10 is the best indictor. The 2020 ranking of the Human Freedom Index is based on 2018’s data. According to the 2020 ranking, Georgia garnered 7.87 points and was ranked 40th among the world’s 162 countries. Georgia outperformed three EU member states – Hungary, Poland and Greece – with this result.
Georgia garnered 5.4 points for the rule of law component in 2020 whilst the country’s score in the property rights and legal system criterion is 6.5 points. However, of note is that Georgia’s score for judicial independence is 4.2 points.
Table 6: Georgia’s Scores According to the Human Freedom Index in 2008-2018
Source: Fraser Institute
As illustrated by Table 6, Georgia’s score dropped by 0.01 of a point in 2018 as compared to the previous year. Of additional note is that Georgia’s best score was in 2014-2015.
The Authoritative American non-governmental organisation, Freedom House, publishes yearly reports where countries are scored in terms of freedom. The Freedom House reports reflect the events of the previous year. Freedom House assesses a country’s level of freedom based on two categories of political freedoms and civil liberties on a scale from 0 to 100 where 100 is the best result. Of the total score, 40 points are given for political rights and 60 points for civil liberties. In the Freedom in the World 2021 report, Georgia garnered 60 points out of 100 and was classified as a partly free country. In terms of political rights and civil liberties, Georgia garnered 23 and 37 points, respectively. Georgia’s total ranking dropped by one point as compared to the previous year.
Graph 1: Georgia’s Scores According to Freedom House’s Yearly Reports in 2014-2020
Source: Freedom House
The graph clearly illustrates that Georgia’s best score was in the 2017 report and the country has been constantly backsliding since then . Of note is that Georgia’s score is 31 points lower as compared to the average score of the EU member states and nine points lower as compared to the worst performing EU member state.
According to the report, Georgia’s democratic development has generally achieved great progress in the past years. The country regularly holds pluralistic elections. However, oligarchic actors have a big influence over the political processes. The interests of the legislative and the executive are still some substantial hindrances for the independence of the judicial system. In addition, the lack of transparency vis-à-vis the judicial process and professionalism remains a challenge for an independent judiciary. Of the four points for the judicial independence indicator, Georgia garnered two.
Of additional note is that in terms of the fight against corruption, Georgia has two out of four possible points in the report. According to the assessment of Freedom House, although the country achieved significant progress in terms of fighting petty corruption, this problem persists within the government. The report reads: “The effective application of anticorruption laws and regulations is impaired by a lack of independence among law enforcement bodies and the judiciary, and successful cases against high-ranking officials who are on good terms with the Georgian Dream leadership remain rare.”
Corruption Perception Index (CPI)
The international organisation Transparency International publishes its Corruption Perception Index (CPI) annually. The index involves 180 countries. The CPI is compiled on the basis of surveys of authoritative international organisations where each of them offers an assessment in terms of corruption in different countries. The 2020 CPI is based on 13 different surveys. The countries are scored on a scale from 0 to 100 where 0 is the highest level of corruption and 100 means the freest from corruption. In the CPI’s 2020 ranking, Georgia has 56 points and ranks 45th together with Poland and Saint Lucia. In addition, Georgia outperforms nine EU member states.
As compared to the previous year, Georgia’s score has not changed whilst the country lost one position in the ranking. At the same time, Georgia is still ranked as number-one in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region according to the 2020 CPI ranking .
Table 7: Georgia’s Scores According to the Corruption Perception Index in 2012-2020
Source: Transparency International
In parallel with the publication of Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index scores, another article was published on the website of the TI Berlin secretariat which discusses Georgia’s score in this year’s index and the reasons behind it. The article reads: “Georgia has not seen significant improvement in the ranking since 2012. In a country once celebrated as a reformer, anti-corruption efforts have stagnated in a nearly a decade.” TI also mentions that state capture and undue influence over key institutions remain as the main challenges to political integrity in Georgia. Moreover, according to the 2020 Georgia National Integrity System Assessment, Georgia’s political system is characterised by an extremely high degree of a concentration of power as a single political group wields disproportionate control over all key public institutions. This also implies that the Georgian judiciary is not independent and all key institutions are run by the ruling party according to TI.
Worldwide Governance Indicators
The Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) are the World Bank’s annual data research base. The WGI uses six key criteria to measure the quality of governance in over 200 countries and territorial units. These criteria are as follows: fight and control of corruption, the rule of law, regulatory quality, government effectiveness, political stability and lack of violence, involvement in the political process, expression and media freedom. The World Bank uses surveys and reports of over 30 different international observer organisations, NGOs, think-tanks and institutions in order to publish this ranking. Based on these data, the World Bank determines each country’s ranking based on each of the aforementioned criterion.
The rule of law indicator assesses countries in terms of property rights, the reliability of the police and court independence as well as the likelihood of crime and violence. Georgia’s score in 2020 was 62.02% which is 1.92% less as compared to the previous year. Georgia’s best score in terms of the rule of law component was in 2014 and 2016.
Graph 2: Georgia’s Score According to the Rule of Law Indicator in 2012-2020
Source: World Bank
According to the rule of law indicator, Georgia’s score is 4.64 points lower as compared to the average score of European and Central Asian countries. In addition, Georgia is ahead of only three EU member states; namely, Italy, Greece and Bulgaria, according to the same indicator.
US Department of State Report
On 30 March 2021, US Department of State published an annual report which concerns the state of human rights in different countries, including Georgia. The report detailed numerous relevant problems in Georgia and says that significant human rights issues in Georgia included: “Serious problems with the independence of the judiciary along with detentions, investigations and prosecutions widely considered to be politically motivated; unlawful interference with privacy, limited respect for freedom of peaceful assembly and association and crimes involving violence or threats targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.”
The report speaks at great length about issues related to the judicial system. According to the document, although the constitution and the law provide for an independent judiciary, there remained indications of interference in judicial independence and impartiality. Judges were vulnerable to political pressure from within and outside of the judiciary. There are numerous mentions in the report about an influential group of judges, the so-called “clan,” often referred to by NGOs and the Public Defender’s Office. It was highlighted that these NGOs and the international community continued to raise concern about the lack of judicial independence and highlighted the influence of a group of judges primarily consisting of High Council of Justice members and court chairs who allegedly stifled critical opinions within the judiciary. The report speaks about the shortcomings in the appointments of judges and underlines that NGOs pointed to the flawed process for selecting judges at all court levels, many to lifetime appointments, which left the judiciary vulnerable to political influence. Furthermore, the report says that the long-standing practice of transferring judges from one court to another also remained a problem. The decisions regarding transfers were made by the High Council of Justice; however, these decisions were unsubstantiated.
Given all of the aforementioned, we can conclude that Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement is a MANIPULATION. All of the rankings and the reports provided in this article prove that judicial independence remains as one of Georgia’s key challenges. In the reports of the last years, there are increasingly frequent mentions of the “judicial clan,” political bias and the ruling party’s influence over the judiciary. However, despite such harsh assessments vis-à-vis Georgia’s judiciary, some of the international rankings assess the country’s judiciary more favourably as compared to the judiciaries of some European Union member states. Based on the rankings reviewed in this article, we may say that in most cases only the courts of Hungary and Bulgaria are assessed to be worse than those of Georgia. Mr Gharibashvili uses these very cases for manipulation in his statement. He only emphasises the fact that Georgia’s judicial system is assessed to be better as compared the judicial systems of some European member states. In addition, he excludes those facts that Georgia’s best performances were mostly in 2015-2017 and that the country’s positions in nearly all of the rankings have been deteriorating every year since then.
 Before 2014, the organisation used a different methodology to produce reports. Therefore, it is impossible to make a comparison of the current assessment with earlier ones.
 The Eastern Europe and Central Asia Region comprises 19 countries. These countries are as follows: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo. Of mention is that Georgia does not recognise Kosovo as an independent country.