Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The problems facing Georgian courts

Note: This article first appeared in the Caucasus Data Blog, a joint production of CRRC Georgia and OC Media. It was written by Mariam Kobaladze, a Senior Researcher at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in the article are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC Georgia, USAID, East-West Management Institute, or any related entity.

Over the last few years, the court system in Georgia has been subject to criticism from politicians, civil society, and international bodies. The criticism mostly focused on the independence of judges, the selection and appointment of members of the Supreme Court, legislative shortcomings, access to court decisions, and the quality of court decisions, among a range of other issues. Prior to this, public trust in courts had already been low relative to other institutions, with only 17% of the public reporting they trusted the courts in 2019. 

Studies CRRC Georgia published in 2021 suggest that the main issue business people and legal professionals see in the court system is justice not delivered in a timely fashion. Yet, they view the issues in the court system as symptoms of the broader problems that other actors criticise.

When asked about the main challenges businesses face in the courts, half of businesses named time-related issues. The length of trials was named by 31% and delayed enforcement of court decisions was named by 19%. Relatively few, 10%, felt that the lack of independence of courts was an issue. 

The long timelines for court trials and enforcement of decisions were also discussed extensively in qualitative research. Businesses reported that trials can take years to conclude. Even when they do, enforcement of decisions takes so long that inflation and currency fluctuations can eat away at the value of settlements. As a result, some business people report that decisions settled in their favour, ‘merely stayed on paper’. Knowing that inflation and currency fluctuations will ultimately reduce the value of settlements, some businesses report that there is a strong incentive for those they are suing to delay trials and enforcement. 

The results were quite similar in a study of legal professionals’ attitudes that CRRC Georgia conducted in the spring and summer of 2021. Lawyers highlighted that court hearings and the issuance of rulings took longer than the limits set out in legislation. An NGO lawyer from Tbilisi told CRRC: ‘It is a fact that the court system cannot complete almost any case within the legally set norms […] often resolution of cases is so late that any interest towards the case is lost and it is impossible to restore the violated right’. 

Judges are aware of the problem. When discussing the long timelines around cases, they blamed heavy caseloads. They further noted that this also resulted in lower-quality decisions. ‘The increase in the number of cases impacts quality’,  a judge working in the criminal courts told CRRC. ‘Sometimes quality is damaged, sometimes [timelines]. Case trials are not finished on time.’

These were not the only issues with the judiciary that study participants mentioned. Lawyers mentioned issues around a dearth of common practice and lack of independence among investigators. While judges felt that low public trust was a problem for the court system as well as insufficient social guarantees for judges after retirement.

The above does not demonstrate that a lack of independence and opaque selection procedures for judges are not a problem. Rather, lawyers tended to suggest that most of the issues noted above were symptoms of the courts’ fundamental problems rather than the disease itself. They reported that without addressing the root causes, including how appointments throughout the judiciary are made, as well as case distribution rules, the judiciary is likely to continue functioning at sub-optimal levels. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

As Georgia’s government argues with the West, the public want ever closer relations

Note: This article was first published in the Caucasus Data Blog, a joint publication of CRRC Georgia and OC Media. It was written by Dustin Gilbreath, the Deputy Research Director at CRRC Georgia. The views expressed in this article reflect the views of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Europe Foundation, CRRC Georgia, or any related entity.

Over the past year, Georgia’s government has engaged in a series of spats with the Western governments and institutions, despite data suggesting people want the opposite.

Last year saw more damage to Georgia’s relationship with the West than in any other time in recent memory. 

In July, the US Embassy said it was ‘deeply disturbed and exasperated’ after the ruling Georgian Dream party withdrew from the Charles Michel Agreement, a deal which the President of the European Union spent multiple days in Georgia negotiating. ‘Refusing’ financial aid that one Member of the European Parliament said would not have been available anyway due to failures to reform the judiciary, was another notable strike in Georgia’s declining Western relations. 

The head of the Georgian Dream Party’s increasingly regular spats with the US Ambassador can only be further damaging relations. Concomitantly, the tone of US statements has gone from one of concern to talk of ‘risk[ing] tyranny’. 

All the while, data from the Knowledge of and Attitudes towards the European Union in Georgia, funded by the Europe Foundation and implemented by CRRC Georgia, shows that the public wanted closer relations with the West in the period leading up to the scandals noted above.

The share of people thinking Georgia should focus its political and economic efforts on Russia has declined since 2013. Two-thirds of people named Russia as one of the countries Georgia should have closer political relations with than others in 2013, compared with only a third in 2021. The data is quite similar when it comes to economic cooperation.

Note: Respondents were asked, ‘Which of the following countries and unions should Georgia have the closest [economic/political] cooperation with?’ They were allowed to provide up to three responses. As a result, the sum of responses does not equal 100%.

While Russia’s importance to Georgians has been on the decline, people’s views of the West have been on the rise. 

In 2015, 49% of people said Georgia’s closest political relations should be with the EU, less than the share naming Russia. Since then, there has been a 13 percentage point rise, bringing the share of the public thinking that relations should be closest with the EU 30 points above those reporting the same of Russia. 

The data on economic relations paints a similar picture, with a 17 percentage point rise in the share of the public thinking that Georgia’s closest economic relations should be with the European Union between 2019 and 2021.

The data paints a similar picture of attitudes towards the US. There was a rise from 46% of the public thinking Georgia should have the US among its closest political partners in 2015 to 61% in 2021. Between 2019 and 2021, the data shows a six percentage point increase in this view. 

The change is even larger with regards to attitudes towards economic relations with the US, with a 19 percentage point rise between 2015 and 2021, including a nine percentage point rise between 2019 and 2021.

The Georgian public increasingly thinks that Georgia should have closer political and economic relations with the West, while fewer and fewer people think Georgia should focus its political and economic relations to the North. Despite the public’s views, the Georgian Western relation remains on the rocks. 

The data used in this article are available here.