Increasing judicial independence and transparency was a goal of the Georgian legal reform community for years. With the support of EWMI’s USAID-funded Judicial Independence and Legal Empowerment Project (JILEP), civil society groups were able to organize themselves into a coalition large and influential enough to create real change.
EWMI’s partnership with the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary (the Coalition) began in April 2011 with 29 member organizations. The Coalition included not only legal rights and professional organizations but also business associations and media. Coalition representatives worked in teams, or working groups, to study problematic issues, develop reform concepts and provide legislative recommendations. Leaders of the Coalition then used press conferences, public forums, and high-level meetings to deliver advocacy messages developed by the working groups.
Before the 2012 elections, with EWMI’s assistance, the Coalition created a set of recommended amendments to the Organic Law on the Courts and other relevant laws. After the elections, the new government used these recommendations to create a sweeping legislative reform package which was adopted in May 2013. The reforms deconstructed a top-down court management system that had restrained the growth of judicial independence for a decade. The new laws gave Georgian judges tools to increase independence and transparency of the judiciary. For example, judges now have the right to directly nominate and elect members of the High Council of Justice (HCOJ), the body tasked with selecting, promoting, and disciplining judges. In addition, the new legislation increases court transparency by requiring that all court proceedings be videotaped and that this footage be made available to the parties and the public.
The Coalition also took steps to increase the transparency of the HCOJ. For the first time ever, the HCOJ began holding regularly scheduled meetings with agendas and invited civil society representatives and judges to attend. The Coalition’s advocacy was so successful that open HCOJ meetings are now a regular part of Georgia’s judicial culture. The HCOJ has been transformed into an open forum for discussing justice sector reform directions, where active judges and civil society members attend and contribute feedback and recommendations. Although the JILEP project has ended, EWMI’s current Promoting Rule of Law in Georgia (PROLoG) project, also funded by USAID, continues to support the Coalition as an important actor in Georgia’s justice sector.
With this support, the Coalition held its 13th Public Forum on December 21, 2015, bringing together government and civil society stakeholders to discuss current challenges faced by the Georgian judicial system, including problems with judicial selection and appointment. The speakers emphasized the significance of clearly defined rules for insuring a merit based and a transparent appointment process, and discussed the shortcomings of the existing case assignment and judicial specialization practices. The Coalition presented arguments for urgently reforming both systems. To this end, it called for renewing the parliamentary deliberations on the Third Wave of Judicial Reform legislative package initiated by the Ministry of Justice. Representatives of the Parliament, Ministry of Justice, the judiciary, and civil society actively discussed these issues at length following the presentations. It is hoped that by holding these forums and advocating for reform, the Coalition will continue to effect real change in Georgia’s justice sector as it has done in the past.