Do Georgians think the Prosecutor’s Office is biased?
[This article was published on the Caucasus Data Blog in partnership with OC Media. It was written by Eto Gagunahvili, a Junior Researcher at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in this article do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity.]
The impartiality and effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office has come into question in recent years.
The Georgian public has been in a near-perpetual state of shock in recent years over a stream of high-profile criminal cases. In many of these, the impartiality and effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office has come into question, but what do people really think about this vital institution?
Cases like the Khorava Street Murders, the killing by the Security Services of Temirlan Machalikashvili, and most recently, the murder of 19-year-old Giorgi Shakarashvili have captured the public attention.
More recently, there has been widespread discussion over the death of Tamar Bachaleishvili. The authorities suggest she took her own life while the opposition and some in the media have argued that foul play was involved.
The media has widely covered these cases, often questioning the effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office.
Between 30 March and 12 April, CRRC Georgia conducted a study on people’s knowledge of and attitudes towards the Prosecutor’s Office within the PRIME project.
Data from the study suggests that people tend towards thinking there is political interference in the Prosecutors Office. Yet, they are often unaware of some basic facts about the institution.
The survey data indicates that while few think the Prosecutor’s Office is fully under the thumb of political forces, few think it is entirely free either.
Only 6% of the public said they thought the Prosecutor’s Office was completely free of political influence. By comparison, 11% thought it was not free at all. The remainder of the public said it was mainly free (39%), mainly unfree (21%) or that they were uncertain if it was under political influence (22%).
Analyses of the above question suggest that age, level of education, and settlement type are related to people’s opinions of how free on unfree the Prosecutor’s Office is from political influence.
People between the ages of 35–54 were more likely to report that the Prosecutor’s Office was free from political influences compared to younger people. Those with secondary or lower education were more likely to report that the Prosecutor’s Office was not free from political influence compared to people with higher education.
When it comes to settlement type, people living in rural areas were more likely to report that the Prosecutor’s Office was free from political influences than people in Tbilisi.
In December 2018, the Prosecutor’s Office was separated from the Ministry of Justice and became a fully independent agency. The study checked whether people knew where the Prosecutor’s Office was institutionally located and asked respondents which of the following statements was true:
- The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia is currently subordinated to the Ministry of Justice;
- The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia is currently subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs;
- The Prosecutor's Office of Georgia is currently an independent structure.
The data shows that approximately a third of people (34%) did not know, and a third of people believe that the Prosecutor’s office was subordinated to the Ministry of Justice or Ministry of Internal Affairs. People were also largely unaware of who the Prosecutor General is.
The majority (64%) in Georgia did not know who the Prosecutor General is, and 2% reported someone aside from who the actual Prosecutor General is.
A regression shows that people who do not know which of the above statements about the Prosecutor's Office was true were more likely to report that it was free from political influences. They were also more likely to report that they didn’t know the answer to the question.
The public’s opinion is a mixed bag about the Prosecutor’s Office. The majority have no idea who the Prosecutor General is or whether the Prosecutor's Office is independent or a subordinated structure.
Most people believe that the Prosecutor's Office is subject to political influence, though there is some variation between social and demographic groups.
In early December 2017, two schoolchildren were killed on Khorava Street in Tbilisi. On May 31st, 2018, Tbilisi City Court announced the decision on the Khorava Street murder case. The announcement caused mass demonstrations led by Zaza Saralidze, a father of one of the murdered children.On June 19-26, 2018, within the EU-funded project “Facilitating Implementation of Reforms in the Judiciary (FAIR)”, CRRC-Georgia conducted a phone survey on people’s knowledge about the Court decision and their evaluation. The survey resulted in 1005 completed interviews, and is representative of the adult Georgian-speaking population of the country. The average margin of error of the survey is 2.8%.
Selection of Supreme Court judge candidates: What people in Georgia know and think about the processFollowing the constitutional amendments and changes to the organic law of Georgia on common courts, the minimum number of judges at the Supreme Court increased to 28. At the same time, 10-year appointments were changed to lifetime tenures, and the High Council of Justice was given the authority to nominate candidates for parliamentary appointment. Following these changes, the High Council of Justice started the selection of Supreme Court judge candidates and in the beginning of September 2019 provided a list of 20 candidates to be submitted to the Parliament of Georgia for approval. Interviews with candidates were live streamed and the process enjoyed wide media coverage.
Survey experiment: more than a quarter of people in Georgia think that Prosecutor’s Office fulfills its duties non-objectivelySeveral blog posts (see here and here) on Social Science in the South Caucasus have shown that the population of Georgia is split in their views of the Prosecutor’s Office (PO). In the phone survey held in March 2019, carried out for the Promoting Prosecutorial Independence through Monitoring and Engagement (PrIME) project funded by the European Union and implemented by the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information, CRRC-Georgia carried out a survey experiment to better understand under what circumstances people trust and do not trust the Prosecutor’s Office.
But, what does the public in Georgia know about the process of appointment of the Supreme Court Justices, and what is their attitude towards the newly appointed justices and judicial institutions? A phone survey conducted on January 30 - February 10, 2020 suggests that people in Georgia are divided between trusting and distrusting judicial institutions...
On March 4-23, 2020, CRRC-Georgia conducted a phone survey to find out attitudes towards the prosecutor’s office and whether people watched the film. The survey specifically focused on:
- How much people trust or distrust the Prosecutors Office of Georgia;
- How often people think prosecutors abuse power and make deals with judges or government;
- To what extent the restoration of justice investigations were accomplished.