Monday | 07 August, 2017

Rare evidence: Judges on challenges in the court system of Georgia

Georgia has long faced problems with its court system. On CRRC’s 2015 Caucasus Barometer survey, only about one in four people in Georgia reported trusting the country’s court system. Since 2012, there have been three sets of judicial reforms, yet according to a number of NGOs, there are still important issues to be solved.

We often hear what NGO representatives think about the challenges facing the judiciary system in Georgia. It is, however, rare to have the chance to learn what judges think about the system. In partnership with the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, CRRC-Georgia interviewed 12 current and former judges in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Zugdidi in October-December, 2016. Although 28 judges were sampled originally, others could not be contacted or refused to be interviewed. Importantly, the findings of these interviews cannot be generalized. Still, they provide rather unique insights into what judges think about the problems in the judicial system in Georgia. 

Respondents named several important issues that have a negative impact on the court system. First, judges have large caseloads that might affect the quality of decisions. Thus, more judges are needed to handle cases. Second, judges note a lack of courtrooms. Both problems result in trials being delayed. As one judge noted:We have a shortage of staff, we need more judges. There are too many cases. We fail to handle them all. We lack judges, <…> so, this may affect the quality of [court] decisions. Trials take too long, because we simply don’t have [enough] courtrooms. (Current judge; male; Tbilisi City Court).

Importantly, both these issues have already been addressed in the draft version of the 2017-2021 Court System Strategy, which calls for an increase in the number of judges as well as courtrooms.

The interviewed judges also noted the lack of trust in the court system as another important issue. The respondents believe that it may be the judges themselves who are sometimes responsible for the lack of trust in the court system. In their opinion, if judges in Georgia consistently issued well-elaborated verdicts, the system would earn more trust, since such verdicts would help avoid any suspicion about the quality of the verdict, particularly from representatives of the party that has lost.

Respondents also think that the media influences public opinion about the courts. Some of the respondents believe that the media prefers to cover problematic cases, especially when the court competence is to be questioned, rather than the cases when the court came up with a well-reasoned and convincing verdict. Generally, the interviewed judges are not against media coverage of the court proceedings and believe that such coverage increases the transparency of courts. However, some of them believe that journalists should be trained on how to use legal terminology properly.

In spite of the challenges associated with such interviews, it would be valuable to continue to collect these first-hand accounts of the court system from judges. The full report of this study is available here.