The Judicial Independence and Legal Empowerment Project (JILEP) in Georgia
When EWMI’s Judicial Independence and Legal Empowerment Project in Georgia (EWMI-JILEP) began operation in 2010, growing disillusionment with the Georgian court system permeated public life. A handful of top-level managers, all men, served as its institutional “voice,” and lower-level judges were rarely seen or heard at public events. This centralized and monolithic judicial management structure slowed the pace of potential reforms, a reality compounded by the undue role that prosecutors played in directing or otherwise influencing case outcomes. In addition, although critical of overreach by the executive branch, the Georgian Bar Association (GBA) remained weak and faced the constant threat of dismantlement. Few NGOs at the time even possessed the institutional capacity to engage in in-depth data collection and analysis or to combine forces to pursue targeted advocacy campaigns around judicial corruption. Although analysts hoped that a new generation of law graduates could spearhead structural legal reforms, Georgian law schools were not preparing them well for this role.
Since 2010, Georgia has greatly improved the quality of its lawyers and the transparency of its courts. Over the course of the project, EWMI-JILEP supported its NGO partners to monitor the courts’ administrative organ, the High Council of Justice (HCOJ). The reports that these NGOs generated and the advocacy that they pursued helped open up the court system to public scrutiny. The HCOJ now regularly publicizes its meeting agendas and many of its decisions, and civil society representatives frequently participate in HCOJ meetings. At the trial court level, hearings are routinely recorded for public consumption. In addition, because of its sustained effort to raise awareness of gender imbalance in the judiciary, EWMI-JILEP has contributed to the diversification of the makeup of judicial leadership. When the project began, only one woman served as an HCOJ justice, but today the HCOJ has four women members—one of whom is the Chief Justice on the Supreme Court.
As a result of EWMI-JILEP’s initiative, Georgian civil society plays a more active voice in policy discussions. It supported the establishment of the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary (Coalition), which became a major contributor to the government’s “three waves” of legal reform. Collectively, and through the work of its individual members, the Coalition has provided an unprecedented level of judicial oversight. Its members now have a seat at the table of nearly every important justice reform discussion, and its position papers hold significant sway with both government and judicial decision makers.
EWMI-JILEP’s impact on legal education was similarly profound. Because of EWMI-JILEP’s textbook creation project and its library exchange initiative, professors and students have access to a wide range of up-to-date written materials both in Georgian and other languages. In response to these new offerings, many law schools have even adjusted their course offerings to include practical skills training such as legal writing and research, oral advocacy, and clinical practice. In 2015, at least eight law schools in Georgia boasted clinical programs, compared to just two in 2010.
With EWMI-JILEP’s support, the GBA has also sought to revamp its educational programs. The GBA now requires its members to take 12 hours of legal training each year to remain certified. To further enhance the quality of lawyers that enter its ranks, GBA endorsed the complete overhaul of the bar entry exam. In past years, exam answers were published in advance and almost candidate sitting for the exam passed. Now, test answers are confidential, and newly constructed exam questions require more analysis to resolve. Only 11% of the applicants passed this new test when first given in 2013. The rate rose to 26% in 2015 and is expected to rise further in coming years as law graduates learn how to prepare themselves for a more strenuous and meaningful examination.
EWMI’s partners in implementing JILEP included the Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF), the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), Transparency International – Georgia, The Global Network for Public Interest Law (PILnet, formerly know as PILI), the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP), Justitia (the Judges Association of Poland), the Center for Advancing Legal Skills (CFALS) in Lublin, Poland, the Washburn University School of Law, and the South Texas College of Law.