Irakli Gharibashvili: “In the rule of law ratings, we are ranked first among Eastern European and Central Asian countries… It is disinformation that we do not have a free judiciary and face challenges in terms of the rule of law.”

Verdict: FactCheck concludes that Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement is MOSTLY FALSE.

The World Justice Project international civil society organisation provides an annual assessment of the rule of law across countries and accordingly publishes a rule of law index. As of 2023’s data, Georgia is ahead of Eastern European and Central Asian countries, although the country has had a better performance vis-à-vis these countries each year since 2015. Georgia is also ahead of two EU member states and two NATO member states.

Of interest is another fact that Georgia’s index has been decreasing annually since 2015-2016. As a result, the country’s rule of law index points have dropped from 0.65 to 0.60.

The Prime Minister’s emphasis on Georgia’s top-ranking place lacks context as he failed to clarify that the country has in fact been regressing in the last years. At the same, he seeks to convince the audience that Georgia’s judiciary is in order and there are no problems based on the ranking. In fact, there are numerous reports, including the Venice Commission’s conclusion, that indicate problems are afflicting Georgia’s judiciary (see FactCheck’s article for additional details in regard to problems in courts). Therefore, Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement is MOSTLY FALSE.

Analysis

On 25 October 2023, the Georgian Prime Minister, Irakli Gharibashvili, attended opening of the Global Gateway Forum on an invitation from the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. The Prime Minister spoke about a number of issues and whilst answering a journalist’s question, he also brought up the issue of the state of the rule of law in Georgia. In particular, the Prime Minister said: “The most recent data were published and we are ranked first in the rule of law rankings among the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region. We are ahead of active EU member states and NATO member states. Therefore, this is an answer to a lengthy, disinformation, negative and anti-Georgian campaign, claiming that we do not have an independent judiciary, that we face challenges in terms of the rule of law, etc. This specific ranking and this achievement are an answer to all those speculations that have taken place… Our country is indeed a front-runner by every parameter and, of course, I am happy and this recognition, which is not produced and compiled by us, makes me happy. This is an honorary status awarded by the most authoritative organisations.”

FactCheck verified Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement.

The World Justice Project (WJP) international civil society organisation annually publishes its Rule of Law Index. This index consists of several components such as: 1) constraint of government powers, 2) absence of corruption, 3) open government, 4) fundamental rights, 5) order and security, 6) regulatory enforcement, 7) civil justice and 8) criminal justice. These components are assessed separately and the final index is based on them. The Rule of Law Index scores range from 0 to 1 where 1 signifies the highest possible score (strong adherence to the rule of law) and 0 signifies the lowest possible score (weak adherence to the rule of law).

Currently, Georgia is ranked 48th among 142 states in the general index of the rule of law with a score of 0.60. Of note is that the index has been changed several times since 2015. Georgia had the highest index (0.65) in 2015 and was ranked in the 29th position. Georgia's rule of law score was also 0.65 in 2016 but since other countries improved their scores, Georgia moved from 29th to 34th. After these results, Georgia began backsliding in terms of the rule of law index points as well and moved to the 38th place (with 0.61 points) in 2017-2018 and to the 41st place (with 0.61 points) in 2019. In 2020, Georgia continued to regress as the country was awarded 0.60 points and took the 42nd position. Despite small progress in 2021 (0.61 points), it country dropped to the 49th position in the index given the heightened competition. As for the last two years, the index decreased again to 0.60 points in 2022, although the country remained in the 49th position.

Table 1: Georgia’s Score by Rule of Law Index in 2015-2020

As compared to the previous year, Georgia has advanced by one position in the Rule of Law Index and is currently ranked 48th which is the result of the fact that other states have worsened their situations in terms of the rule of law. Because of this, the 0.60 points from the previous year were enough to move the country from the 49th to the 48th place.

As for the Prime Minister's statement that “among the Eastern European countries and Central Asian region, we are ahead of the active EU member states and NATO member states” - according to 2023 data, Georgia is indeed ahead of the Eastern European and Central Asian states, although of note is that it has always ranked first among these states dating from 2015. Of additional note is that Georgia is indeed ahead of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) members Montenegro and North Macedonia and EU (European Union) members Bulgaria and Hungary.

Despite the seemingly positive results, we should not ignore the fact that Georgia has been backsliding in terms of the Rule of Law Index since 2015-2016 and this gradual decrease indicates a negative trend.

It should also be emphasised that Irakli Gharibashvili wrongly uses Georgia’s performance in the Rule of Law Index whilst speaking about the non-existence of problems in terms of judicial independence. This issue was recently assessed by the Venice Commission which remarked that there are suspicions about the practice of using informal channels of influence or “clan-closed” decision-making which go against the principles of transparency and accountability. In addition, the Venice Commission also underlined other problems related to the comprehensive reform of the High Council of Justice, the election of its lay members, the decision-making procedure, the gradual election of members, secondment and transfer of judges and the suspension of judges from the office. It is the Venice Commission’s position that there is some progress in terms of court system improvement, although major work still remains to be done.

Ultimately, the only truth in Irakli Gharibashvili's statement is that Georgia is ahead of the Eastern European and Central Asian countries as well as two members each from the European Union and from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization according to the current data. However, he fails to mention that Georgia has been backsliding annually in the field of the rule of law. His statement also concludes that the Georgian judiciary does not have any problems in regard to the Rule of Law Index, although the opposite is confirmed by numerous reports as was mentioned earlier. In this way, the Prime Minister is trying to mislead the public with incomplete information and presenting the real negative trend of recent years in a positive light.

Given all of the aforementioned, FactCheck concludes that Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement is MOSTLY FALSE.


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