The High Council of Justice (HCoJ), which is in charge of overseeing judicial system, requires “prompt and radical” reforms, president’s office said on February 23.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s aides said the HCoJ lacks public confidence accused the HCoJ of violated law by sacking Giorgi Akhvlediani from the position of chairman of the Tbilisi City Court.
Akhvlediani, who remains judge of the same court, was dismissed from the chairmanship by the HCoJ on February 22; he was accused of violating procedures of assigning cases to judges.
Akhvlediani denied allegation and said that he was dismissed because of his public criticism of HCoJ over process of selecting and appointing new judges.
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“Regrettably the HCoJ fails to observe standards in selecting and appointing judges and violates law in the process of dismissing [Tbilisi] City Court chairman. Decisions of the HCoJ themselves show that this council needs to be fundamentally reformed,” Kakha Kozhoridze, president’s adviser for human rights and legal affairs, said on February 23.
“I do not know whether HCoJ’s complaints against Mamuka Akhvlediani are well-founded or not, but even they are completely true, the Council should not have adopted that decision [to sack Tbilisi City Court chairman],” he added, referring to claims that the decision was taken with procedural violations.
The only member of HCoJ who voted against of Akhvlediani’s dismissal was Vakhtang Mchedlishvili, a President-appointed member of HCoJ. He cited two reasons behind his decision to vote against.
“First – it violated principle of fairness and did not listen to the arguments of [Akhvlediani], although he was requesting to give him time till Friday for presenting his arguments and factual circumstances. Second – the HCoJ went beyond its authority and assumed functions of disciplinary committee by imposing disciplinary sanction on [Akhvlediani] by dismissing him from the [Tbilisi City Court] chairmanship,” said Mchedlishvili.
President’s parliamentary secretary, Giorgi Kverenchkhiladze, told journalists on February 23, that the HCoJ should be immediately reformed in order to “regain public confidence.”
Coalition for Independent and Transparent Judiciary, a group uniting dozens of non-governmental organizations, condemned Akhvlediani’s dismissal from Tbilisi City Court chairmanship.
“We believe that HCoJ’s decision to dismiss the chairman [of the Tbilisi City Court] grossly violates the requirements of the law and contradicts clear and unambiguous procedures set in the legislation,” the group said in a statement on February 23. “The decision is beyond any legal logic and reveals the abusive and arbitrary application of the law by the HCoJ. Along with violating the rights and legal interests of an individual judge, this decision will have repercussions for the development of the entire judicial system, since this decision is not only directed against Mamuka Akhvlediani, but also serves as an indication for the judiciary that expressing critical position in the future will lead to the use of the similar mechanisms by the Council.”
Also on February 23 members of the HCoJ met judges of the Tbilisi City Court to explain reasons behind their decision to dismiss Akhvlediani, saying that apart of violating rules of assigning cases to judges, he was showing no willingness of cooperation with the HCoJ.
Several judges of the Tbilisi City Court, who spoke at the meeting, were criticizing Akhvlediani. One of them said that the former chairman of the Tbilisi City Court was not at all participating or voicing his position when judges were opposing some of the proposals in the Justice Ministry-drafted bill on judicial reform and now he is trying to portray himself as the only independent judge in the system while he has not even presided over a single case during his chairmanship tenure.
Akhvlediani has been the judge since 2007; first he served as chairman of the Rustavi City Court and then he chaired Tbilisi City Court since November 2012.
He became known to wider public in late December, when he publicly criticized the HCoJ and Supreme Court Chairperson Nino Gvenetadze, accusing them of failure to cope with challenges in the judicial system and blaming them for creating “ugly system”. He was also criticizing the process of selecting and appointing of new judges by the HCoJ, which, he said, was contributing to creation of “clannish system” in the judiciary. The issue of judicial appointments has become contentious especially after HCoJ’s highly controversial decision to re-appoint Girgvliani case judge Levan Murusidze in late December. The Conference of Judges, a self-governing body of judges, was convened at least twice since Akhvlediani first voiced his allegations. Most of the judges, who spoke at those conferences, were criticizing Akhvlediani and distancing themselves from his allegations.
In early February, Akhvlediani alleged that answers to judge certification exams were leaked from the HCoJ to at least one of the candidates. Akhvlediani says that after voicing these allegations the HCoJ launched disciplinary proceedings against him. According to the HCoJ it studied the issue of alleged leak of exam answers and found possible wrongdoing, which was referred for further investigation to the Prosecutor’s Office.
According to the existing legislation it is up to the HCoJ to appoint and dismiss chairpersons of courts (except of the Supreme Court). A legislative proposal, drafted by the Justice Ministry, which was passed with its first reading by the Parliament last week, will change this rule by allowing judges of a respective court to name three candidates for their court’s chairmanship and it will be then up to the HCoJ to pick from the proposed three candidates.
The proposed bill, which has yet to be adopted with its second and third readings, will also introduce electronic case assigning system that would provide for randomly assigning cases to judges, minimizing the role of court chairpersons in the process.