International Judicial Monitor
Published by the American Society of International Law and the International Judicial Academy
December 2006, Volume 1, Issue 5

Justice Sector Assessment

Georgian FlagCombating Judicial Corruption in the Republic of Georgia
Mary Noel Pepys, Esq.


  Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili <br /> Photo courtesy of
 U.S. educated, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili is taking on corruption by improving judicial salaries, working conditions and courthouses and dismissing sitting judges

The Republic of Georgia, internationally known for its systemic corruption, has been undergoing a transformation during the past two years following the Rose Revolution and the ascendancy of Mikhail Saakashvili to the Presidency. 

Having received a law degree in the United States, practiced as an associate with a New York law firm, and participated in numerous American and European legal and judicial reform efforts in Georgia, President Saakashvili learned first-hand the attributes and benefits of an independent judiciary. 

Judicial corruption in Georgia, as with its neighbors, flourished during the last decade. With low salaries, abysmal working conditions, and convoluted and murky court procedures, judges were either enticed to succumb to illicit payments or obliged to submit to improper political influence. 

With the zeal of a young reformer, President Saakashvili, born in 1967, has embarked on an aggressive, multi-faceted program to cleanse the judiciary of all judges reputed to be corrupt and even those who may not have been corrupt, but allowed corruption to survive under their leadership. 

Removing and Appointing Judges

  Supreme Court of Georgia <br /> Photo courtesy of
 Supreme Court of Georgia

Based upon the recommendations of the High Council of Justice, the President’s consultative body, which is entrusted with the power of recommending to the President the appointment and dismissal of judges, the President is expected to dismiss over two-thirds of the country’s judges by year’s end.  Additionally, under the inducement of a recent law providing a life-time pension equal to their current salary, numerous Supreme Court judges have resigned.  

In their place, a new crop of judges have been appointed after undergoing a careful examination process with the High Council of Justice.  Although not transparent, the written judicial examination and oral interviews are ostensibly designed to ascertain the reputation, analytical thinking, and personal characteristics of prospective judges. 

With the purge of many experienced judges, the new crop of judges are young, as evidenced by the 30-year old Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and have yet to develop the knowledge and professional skills of seasoned judges.  Thus, there is concern within the legal community of Georgia that the new judges are malleable and may be more likely than former judges to succumb to improper influence. 

Improving Working Conditions

  Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili <br /> Photo courtesy of
  Georgia suffers from dilapidated infrastructures

As a means of reducing the temptation of judges to engage in corruption, specifically in soliciting or accepting illicit payments, President Saakashvili has substantially raised the salaries of judges.  With an increase in salary as high as 400% for Supreme Court judges, and 300% for lower court judges, many court observers believe judges would be foolhardy to engage in corruption and risk dismissal from such high-paying government positions.

Recognizing the adverse impacts the dilapidated court infrastructure and the antiquated court procedures have had on the judicial decision-making process in Georgia, the President has also been embarking on an ambitious project of restructuring and modernizing the courts.  Drastically reducing by consolidation the number of lower courts from 75 to 17, creating in their stead smaller magistrate courts, limiting the jurisdiction of appellate courts to appeals only, granting the Supreme Court, a court of cassation, with discretionary power concerning the cases it hears, and developing specialty among all judges, the Government of Georgia is attempting to make justice more efficient, accessible and transparent.

Concurrent with the reorganization of the courts, the Government of Georgia has allocated a significant sum to construct, rebuild, remodel or upgrade all courthouses, including magistrates courts.  Further, funds are being allocated to upgrade the working conditions of judges and court staff by providing modern office equipment to the courts. The amount, however, is insufficient to fully equip all courts. 

Prospective judges and sitting judges will be trained under a newly-established High School of Justice, a legal entity of public law, which is the successor to the Judicial Training Center, an NGO.  Unlike the Judicial Training Center, which relied primarily upon financial assistance from international donors, the High School of Justice is projected to receive a significant allocation from the Government.  Prospective judges are now subjected to a new requirement to attend a fourteen-month program of theoretical and practical training which will be provided by the High School of Justice which also has the mandate to provide continuing training to sitting judges. 


  New Georgian Coat of Arms<br /> Photo courtesy of
 New Georgian Coat of Arms

Despite the laudable reforms within the justice sector undertaken by the Government of Georgia, the public remains skeptical of their efficacy, and are highly dubious that such reforms will result in an independent judiciary.  Human rights activists cite the enormous case backlog which has resulted in unreasonable pre-trial detentions.  Dismissed judges are publicly accusing their replacements of becoming obedient servants of the President, the ruling party and the prosecutor’s office. 

Given the wide-ranging powers the President possesses under Georgian law, local and international criticism has been leveled at the President for his excessive influence over the judicial system and for his pursuit of judicial reforms through non-transparent means.  President Saakashvili claims that while the judiciary remains a problematic sector, his radical reforms are necessary in order to cleanse the judiciary and to give the newly- appointed judges the essential tools to withstand improper external influence.

Only time will tell whether the judicial reforms initiated by President Saakashvili are cosmetic in order to sustain his leadership or will result in an independent judiciary worthy of Georgia’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, including NATO.

For More Information

General Jurisdiction Courts of Georgia

Constitutional Court of Georgia

Ministry of Justice of Georgia

Judicial Reform Index: Georgia

Nations in Transit:  Georgia

Global Corruption Barometer:  Georgia

USAID Democracy and Governance Programs: Georgia

Mary Noel Pepys, J.D. is a senior attorney with a specialization in the rule of law, specifically international legal and judicial reform. With her knowledge of common law and civil law principles, Ms. Pepys has worked in over thirty countries developing, implementing and assessing legal reform projects promoting fair and transparent justice systems.

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