A decision by six judges to quit the Supreme Court and retire on December 6 has triggered a new wave of criticism towards the authorities over alleged cases of pressure against judges. Three other judges of the Supreme Court have already publicly spoken out against this pressure.
Nino Gvenetadze, Davit Sulakvelidze and Merab Turava – judges of the Supreme Court - became whistleblowers who publicly accused on November 21 Chairman of the Supreme Court Kote Kublashvili and Chairman of the Justice Council Valery Tsertsvadze. Both Kublashvili and Tsertsvadze denied the allegations.
These three judges, who have already been described by the Georgian media as “rebel judges,” claim that every time the Supreme Court plans to consider cases which are in the interest of the authorities the Chairman of the Supreme Court, under pressure from the General Prosecutor’s Office, instructs the judges on how to rule on the case.
Nino Gvenetadze says that the adoption of amendments to the law on the Supreme Court, which was signed by President Saakashvili on June 23, 2005, became a tool for pressure against judges.
According to this amendment to the law on Supreme Court of Georgia, only those judges of the Supreme Court who resign before December 31, 2005 will receive a pension equal to their current salary – GEL 1,000 (USD 555.5).
“Personally I was not offered to resign in exchange for receiving a high pension, but some of my colleagues have already received similar proposals,” Nino Gvenetadze told Civil.ge.
Merab Turava says that apart from those six judges who have already filed their resignations, the Chairman of the Supreme Court demanded three other judges to quit the Supreme Court.
“The Chairman of the Supreme Court convened three judges this morning [on December 6] – Gogelia, Bibilashvili and Isaev, and categorically demanded that they file their resignations, otherwise he [the Chairman of the Supreme Court] warned that they would be sacked and deprived of any kind of social security, including pensions,” Merab Turava told Imedi television station on December 6.
“These [judges: Gogelia, Bibilashvili and Isaev] are very honorable people who have never discredited themselves. According to Kote Kublashvili he talked with President Saakashvili and they made the decision to fire these judges. I do not want to trust Kublashvili’s words, as I do not want to believe that President Saakashvili could have ordered this,” Davit Sulakvelidze said.
These ‘rebel judges’ also say that Judicial Discipline has also became a tool for pressure on judges.
Currently, the Judicial Discipline Commission, comprising of two judges, one parliamentarian, one member of the Justice Council and is in charge of overseeing the judicial system’s performance, is considering cases against 15 judges, including Nino Gvenetadze, Davit Sulakvelidze and Merab Turava, who are suspected of misconduct. These cases against judges remain confidential, so it is not known exactly what kind of misconduct these judges are suspected of commiting. According to the law, punishment for misconduct by judges can be as harsh as a dismissal or as soft as a reprimand.
But these judges deny any misconduct and claim that the cases against them have been initiated because of their resistance “to follow the authorities’ instructions.”
A claim against these judges comes from a parliamentarian from the ruling party - Nika Gvaramia. One of the members of the Judicial Discipline Commission considering the case is also Nino Kalandadze, an MP from the ruling party. In addition both Kalandadze and Gvaramia are members of the parliamentary Committee for Legal Issues. Nino Kalandadze is the deputy chairperson of this committee. At the commission hearing on December 5, the judges demanded to recuse commission member MP Kalandadze for reasons of conflict of interests, but this appeal was rejected by the commission members.
Although parliamentarians from the ruling National Movement party deny that judges are being pressured they make no secret that the authorities have launched a campaign “to clean” the judicial system from “corrupt judges.”
“We have a campaign to clean the judiciary from those judges who have been neglecting the law for many years; against those judges who were not judges, but rather just dealers between the prosecutor and the attorney,” influential MP from the National Movement party Giga Bokeria said on December 6.
The issue involving this reported pressure against judges was briefly discussed twice at the parliamentary session on December 6 and on November 21, when three - judges Gvenetadze, Sulakvelidze and Turava - publicly spoke out against the pressure for the first time at a news conference. In both cases the issue was pushed by opposition parliamentarians. In a response, Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze requested on November 21 that the parliamentary Committees for Legal Issues and Human Rights probe into the cases. But neither of these committees have reacted so far.
“I have not received any official instructions from the Parliamentary Chairperson,” MP Elene Tevdoradze, chairperson of the parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, told Civil.ge on December 8.
“No hearings in the committee are planned before the end of the trial, which is currently underway in the Judicial Discipline Commission,” MP Nino Kalandadze, deputy chairperson of the parliamentary committee on legal issues, told Civil.ge on December 8.
Judge Davit Sulakvelidze says that the case against him and the other two judges who publicly spoke out against the authorities’ pressure is of crucial importance which will be an indicator of in which direction the judicial system will develop.
“Many of our colleagues are waiting with interest what will be the verdict of the Judicial Discipline Commission, as well as what will be the result of our publicly voiced criticism. If we fail, this will be a very negative sign,” Judge Davit Sulakvelidze said.