Perceptions of court proceeding transparency

[Note:  Social Science in the Caucasus is publishing the work of six young researchers who entered CRRC-Georgia’s Junior Fellowship Program (JFP) in February 2015. This is the sixth blog post in the series. Click here to see the first, secondthird, fourth, and fifth posts in the series.]

By Mari MekhrishviliTransparent courts are essential to ensuring the accountability of the judiciary and to sustaining society’s confidence in the judicial system. The current version of the Organic Law of Georgia on Common Courts, after important amendments made in 2013, is designed to ensure the transparency of the courts. The courts are now obliged to record court sessions and provide records to all interested parties upon request. In addition, the Public Broadcaster is authorized to record and broadcast court sessions except in cases when sessions are closed either in part or in whole, and to provide records to other media outlets upon request. The law also guarantees that the prosecution, defense, and any person present at the trial can record court sessions.

To find out to what extent the legislative changes about photo, video and audio recording during the court sessions works in practice, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association surveyed 26 Georgian media outlets. According to the results of this survey, court proceedings are truly transparent in Georgia, as all media requests to receive court session records were granted from the Public Broadcaster when carried out in compliance with law.
In this context, this blog post looks at Georgian citizens’ perceptions of court transparency in 2014 using CRRC-Georgia’s 2014 Attitudes towards the Judicial System in Georgia survey, funded by East-West Management Institute and the United States Agency for International Development.
Respondents were asked whether, in their opinion, Georgian court proceedings were transparent (a) before and (b) after the milestone 2012 Parliamentary Elections. Only 13% reported that courts were transparent before 2012. This is the period, when only the courts had the authority to record and stenograph court sessions, which could still be banned by the judge’s “reasoned decision”. 34% reported the same for the period after 2012 elections.

Note: The answers to the question, “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the opinion that court proceeding are transparent in Georgia?” were re-coded from a 10-point scale used in the questionnaire into a 3-point scale, where original options 1 through 4 were combined into “Disagree,” options 5 and 6 were combined into “Neither agree nor disagree,” and options 7 through 10 were combined into “Agree.”

Differences in attitudes are evident in different settlement types. Only 7% of Tbilisi residents reported that the courts were transparent before 2012, compared with 13% of urban settlements besides the capital and 17% of rural residents. Perceptions of court proceeding transparency after the 2012 Parliamentary Elections followed a similar pattern with 20% of capital residents, 33% of residents of urban settlements besides the capital, and 44% of rural residents agreeing with the statement that court proceedings were transparent. Rural residents generally appear to believe most in transparency of courts, though, as it is well known, rural residents always report higher levels of trust in institutions. 

Hence, people’s perceptions of court transparency in Georgia differ when assessing the situation before and after 2012 Parliamentary Elections, but in both cases the rural and urban populations have very different assessments.

Take a look at the 2014 Attitudes towards the Judicial System in Georgia survey, here.