Last Friday, together with colleagues from France and the Netherlands, we presented very interesting findings from a recently completed data collection initiative that aimed to measure success of ongoing judicial reforms in Georgia. It is obviously important to have a fair and independent judiciary in Georgia that can withstand influence from the government and other elites and at the same time protect rights of both the general public and businesses.
The first generation of GORBI colleagues have several funny and strange stories to tell their younger peers. One is about the presentation of similar surveys in 1999 among top Georgian government officials and the international community. This was the time when the World Bank and the USAID started assisting us in reforming, or to be more precise, in building the judiciary system. The World Bank commissioned a GORBI survey and among several components, the prevalence of corruption in the government sector was measured. The findings were met with great anger from the then prosecutor general who screamed at the presenter that “you deserve to be arrested, there is no way that our government is as corrupted as you are portraying.” But thanks to the presence of the international and diplomatic community at the conference, the presenter (Mr. Pachulia of GORBI) was “pardoned” and stayed free.
But much time has passed since then and the Georgian Judiciary has evolved to a different level. Those issues that we were studying two decades ago are now almost forgotten. For example, courts are located in proper offices, judges have decent salaries and few talks about corrupt practices. But this in no way means that the Georgian judiciary is now a role model. It still requires hard work, more targeted reforms and overall consensus among political elites, civil society and those who are tasked to deliver fair judgment.
In this column I will only focus on one key question – the population’s perception of the direction of reforms.
Source: IPSOS France, GORBI, Georgia Nationwide Survey, 2018 (n=2013 respondents)
Based on the population survey, over three out of five respondents have heard about the following reforms that took place in Georgia’s Judicial system since 2013: disciplinary liability of judges (68%), lifelong appointment of judges (65%), selection of judges (65%), jury trials (64%), and publicity of court hearings (61%). Out of those who have heard of at least one reform, 37% think that these reforms are moving the judicial system in the right direction, compared to 16% who think that these reforms are going in the wrong direction.
It is noteworthy that younger respondents are even more optimistic towards judicial reforms with 41% of those under 35 years old stating that these reforms are moving the judicial system in the right direction. Income also appears to be an important influencer of how people perceive judicial reforms, with affluent respondents perceiving these reforms more positively. Not surprisingly (especially for those readers who are familiar with the Georgian political landscape) party affiliation is an important indicator of how people view judicial reforms.
72% of respondents who view themselves as supporters of Georgian Dream have indicated that these reforms are moving the judicial system in the right direction, compared to only 14% of respondents who view themselves as United National Movement supporters. Even though these numbers indicate that attitude towards these reforms are highly influenced by party affiliation, it should be noted that in general, a majority of population does not view itself as a supporter of any political party. Only 10% say that they are supporters of Georgian Dream and 6% state that they are supporters of the United National Movement.
The survey also demonstrated that 41% of the population agrees that all people are treated equally by the courts in Georgia. In addition, more than half of those surveyed (51%) highly rate the justice system in Georgia in terms of the independence of courts and judges.
It is interesting to note that the majority of the population (56%) think that judges in Georgia are in general tougher in their sentencing than the respondents would have been. This is very interesting when combined with the idea that the majority of the population (57%) also thinks that courts in Georgia are severe enough against the offender.
Overall, a majority of Georgians agree that the courts in Georgia are: slow (67%), expensive for common citizens (66%), severe enough against the offender (57%), respect the rights of victims (57%), modern (56%), fair (55%), respect the rights of offenders (55%), efficient (53%), trustworthy (52%) and democratic (50%).
NB. The survey on the assessment of judicial reforms in Georgia was conducted by a consortium including IPSOS France, Amicus Curiae, Prof. Jan van Dijk, and GORBI in 2018 on behalf of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia. The research covered only the first, second and third waves of judicial reforms, as well as reforms of the Juvenile Justice Code. It is also worth mentioning here that the current controversy regarding the appointment of some judges may have a negative impact on the general public’s perceptions if the data collection was conducted today.
GORBI is an exclusive member of the Gallup International research network and has more than two decades of experience in survey research (gorbi.com)