Statement about the disciplinary proceedings regarding a Judge of the Constitutional Court of Georgia, Merab Turava
On September 16, 2015, the Constitutional Court of Georgia released a statement indicating that the issue of failure of Judge Merab Turava to sign the judgment on the case of Gigi Ugulava had been referred to the Committee for Ethics and Disciplinary Affairs of the Constitutional Court of Georgia, so that the Committee would study the issue and prepare a relevant conclusion. The conclusion of the Committee was referred to the Plenum of the Constitutional Court of Georgia for further response. The statement of the Court released on September 17 says that, on the basis of the conclusion of the Committee for Ethics and Disciplinary Affairs, the Plenum found that Judge Merab Turava’s failure to show up at the Court and his refusal to sign the judgment constituted a violation of statutory requirements. After the aforementioned had been ascertained, the Plenum of the Constitutional Court was supposed to deliberate on the issue of imposing a disciplinary sanction on him and to take a relevant decision.
In reply to the November 9, 2015, letter of our organization, the Constitutional Court notified us that the Plenum of the Constitutional Court had not yet completed reviewing this issue and had not taken a decision.[i] Therefore, no disciplinary sanction has been applied in relation to the judge so far. We believe that a disciplinary procedure against judges should be based on clear and adequate legislative regulations, so that independence of judges who take part in examination of cases and the authority of the Constitutional Court do not come under danger. In this context, one of the important conditions is that the final decision on disciplinary proceedings should be taken within a reasonable time.
It should be noted from the very beginning that the institution of disciplinary legal proceedings against judges serves an important public interest – to uphold the authority of the Court as a constitutional organ if an action of a judge poses a threat to the exercise of the Court’s constitutional mandate. It should also be emphasized that the procedures of disciplinary proceedings should not make it possible to abuse them and, by doing so, to exert influence on a concrete judge. Of decisive importance for achieving a fair balance among the above-stated interests is the existence of a reasonable, predictable normative framework which, if necessary, will uphold the authority and constitutional function of the Court, on the one hand, and rule out the risk of exerting influence on a concrete judge by abusing it, on the other hand.
The procedures of disciplinary proceedings against judges of the Constitutional Court of Georgia are regulated by the Rules of the Constitutional Court that were adopted by the Court. Specifically, in accordance with Article 21 of the Rules of the Court, in cases envisaged by law, disciplinary proceedings are initiated when the President of the Constitutional Court submits an application to the Committee for Ethics and Disciplinary Affairs of the Constitutional Court, which has 10 days to study the issue. At the same time, the President of the Constitutional Court convenes a sitting of the Plenum which is held within 15 days from the day of its convocation. However, the Rules of the Court do not clearly determine for what purpose the Plenum is convoked within 15 days and whether it is required to take the final decision on the disciplinary proceedings within this period.
In addition, as demonstrated by the examination of Judge Merab Turava’s case, the Constitutional Court does not regard the said term as the deadline for the final decision, as more than two months and a half (rather than 15 or 25 days) has passed since the proceedings were initiated and the Plenum has yet to take the final decision. All the aforementioned allows us to conclude that, according to the applicable legislation, at least judging by how the Constitutional Court interprets the legislation through its practice, no concrete maximum term has been set for taking a decision on disciplinary proceedings against a judge.
We believe that adopting the final decision on disciplinary proceedings against a judge within a reasonable time serves to ensure an important public interest, because a judge who was subjected to disciplinary proceedings takes part in examination and resolution of cases together with other judges during all this period. And due to the crucial constitutional functions of the Constitutional Court, it is vital to ensure that the public does not have any doubts regarding the good faith of a judge who takes part in examination of cases and about his/her suitability for his/her high status position. Participation of those judges who are under disciplinary proceedings in examination of cases (for an indefinite period) poses a tangible threat of damaging the authority of the Constitutional Court. For this reason, it is important that the Plenum of the Constitutional Court evaluate whether the gravity of the offence committed by a judge creates the grounds for applying a disciplinary sanction and take a corresponding decision within a reasonable time, in order to rule out all doubts regarding incompliance of the person of the judge who takes part in examination of cases with statutory and constitutional requirements.
In addition, what is particularly important, leaving a judge in an uncertain legal situation for an indefinite or unreasonably long period of time, while he/she expects a possible severe sanction, poses a threat to the judge’s independence and may give rise to a well-founded doubt that he/she may be subjected to influence while he/she reviews cases. In particular, being in such a situation may prompt a judge to agree with the views of the majority of judges, because they are the ones who must subsequently take a decision on imposing a disciplinary sanction on him/her.
It should also be mentioned that we cannot argue whether or not such pressure has really been exerted on the judge in this concrete case. It is noteworthy that during this period Judge Merab Turava expressed a dissenting opinion on the judgment of October 24, 2015, which concerned the case of plaintiff Beka Tsikarishvili. In spite of this, in order to completely rule out the aforementioned threats and doubts, we call upon the Constitutional Court to:
- formulate the norms of the Rules of the Constitutional Court which regulate disciplinary proceedings against judges in such a way as to ensure that the final decision on disciplinary proceedings is taken within as reasonable time as possible;
complete the examination of the case within the shortest time possible and take a relevant final decision, considering that disciplinary proceedings against Judge Merab Turava have been conducted for more than two and a half years.
[i] The legislation only provides for one form of disciplinary sanction for judges of the Constitutional Court – pre-term termination of authority.