Expanding Mikheil Chinchaladze’s Authority Endangers Random Selection Principle for Court Cases
The Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary is concerned by the April 30 decision of the High Council of Justice that established narrow specializations for judges at Tbilisi Appeals Court and gave the unilateral power over appointing judges to these specializations to the Chair of the Court, Mikheil Chinchaladze. Despite the fact that the legislation does not specifically give such authority to Court Chairs, since 2006 the Tbilisi City Court has had the flawed practice of the Chairs appointing judges to specializations. This creates significant risks because of the Chairs’ influence on the case allocation process.
The Third Wave of Judicial Reforms introduced new rules for case allocation, which went into effect throughout the country on December 31, 2017. Establishing the new system for case allocation is one of the most significant reforms of recent years, and should be a response to numerous challenges to judicial impartiality and independence. The rules for case allocation must first of all exclude all outside intervention into this process.
In the new model of case allocation, the Court Chairs’ power to appoint judges into specializations is troubling. The case allocation program randomly selects which specialized judge gets assigned a specific case, but which judge is specialized in a legal area is decided by the Court Chairs. The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that the Chairs can change the judges’ specialization without the need for any justification, in a short period of time. This creates a significant risk of the Court Chairs’ influence on case allocation.
The narrow specialization of judges is particularly problematic at the Appeals Court level, where as a rule the cases are heard by a collegium of three judges. With the current rules, the electronic case assignment system only choses one judge: the speaker judge in the panel of three judges. Hence, there is a great risk that by simply shuffling judges’ narrow specialization without any substantiation one could influence the formation of the panel of three judges.
The Coalition has repeatedly criticized the role of Court Chairs, who are appointed by opaque rules and are a privileged group viewed as superiors to judges and as controlling them. Given this, the Coalition considers further expansion of the Court Chairs authority a negative development, and believes that if narrow specializations are created the legislation must give the power of specializing judges to the High Council of Justice, rather than the Court Chairs.