The Judicial System

Georgia Table of Contents

When Georgia was part of the Soviet Union, the Supreme Court of Georgia was subordinate to the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, and the rule of law in Georgia, still based largely on the Soviet constitution, included the same limitations on personal rights. Beginning in 1990, the court system of Georgia began a major transition toward establishment of an independent judiciary that would replace the powerless rubber-stamp courts of the Soviet period. The first steps, taken in late 1990, were to forbid Supreme Court judges from holding communist party membership and to remove Supreme Court activities from the supervision of the party. After the overthrow of Gamsakhurdia, the pre-Soviet constitution of 1921 was restored, providing the legal basis for separation of powers and an independent court. Substantial opposition to actual independence was centered in the Cabinet of Ministers, however, some of whose members would lose de facto judicial power.

The Supreme Court

In 1993 the Supreme Court had thirty-nine members, of whom nine worked on civil cases and thirty on criminal cases. All judges had been elected for ten-year terms in 1990 and 1991. Shevardnadze made no effort to replace judges elected under Gamsakhurdia, although they had been seated under a different constitutional system. The Supreme Court's functions include interpreting laws, trying cases of serious criminal acts and appeals of regional court decisions, and supervising application of the law by other government agencies.

The Procurator General

The postcommunist judicial system has continued the multiple role of the procurator general's office as an agency of investigation, a constitutional court supervising the application of the law, and the institution behind prosecution of crimes in court. In 1993 the procurator general's office retained a semimilitary structure and total authority over the investigation of court cases; judges had no power to reject evidence gained improperly. Advocates of democratization identified abolition of the office of procurator general as essential, with separation of the responsibilities of the procurator general and the courts as a first step.

Prospects for Reform

All parties in Georgia agreed that judicial reform depended on passage of a new constitution delineating the separation of powers. If such a constitution prescribed a strong executive system, the head of government would appoint Supreme Court judges; if a parliamentary system were called for, parliament would make the court appointments. In early 1994, however, the constitution was the subject of prolonged political wrangling that showed no sign of abating. At that point, experts found a second fundamental obstacle to judicial reform in a national psychology that had no experience with democratic institutions and felt most secure with a unitary, identifiable government power. Reform was also required in the training of lawyers and judges, who under the old system entered the profession through the sponsorship of political figures rather than on their own merit.

Regional Courts

Until the Gamsakhurdia period, regional courts were elected by regional party soviets; since 1990 regional courts have been appointed by regional officials. After the beginning of ethnic struggles in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, regional military courts also were established. The head of state appoints military judges, and the Supreme Court reviews military court decisions. The Tbilisi City Court has separate jurisdiction in supervising the observance of laws in the capital city.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress