The High Council of Justice (HCoJ), a body overseeing judicial system, dismissed Mamuka Akhvlediani from the position of the chairman of Tbilisi City Court on February 22.
He has also been dismissed from his position of chairman of the criminal cases panel, but remains a judge of the Tbilisi City Court.
Akhvlediani, who has been the judge since 2007 – first he served as chairman of the Rustavi City Court and then he chaired Tbilisi City Court since November 2012, said his dismissal from the chairmanship was a “revenge” for his public criticism of the HCoJ and judicial system leadership.
Akhvlediani has been in conflict with the HCoJ since late December when he publicly criticized the council and Supreme Court Chairperson Nino Gvenetadze, accusing them of failure to cope with challenges the judicial system was facing and blaming them for creating “ugly system”. He was also criticizing the process of selecting and appointing of new judges by the HCoJ, which, he said, was contributing to creation of “clannish system” in the judiciary. The issue of judicial appointments has become contentious especially after HCoJ’s highly controversial decision to re-appoint Girgvliani case judge Levan Murusidze in late December. The Conference of Judges, a self-governing body of judges, was convened at least twice since Akhvlediani first voiced his allegations. Most of the judges, who spoke at the conference, were criticizing Akhvlediani and distancing themselves from his allegations.
In early February, Akhvlediani alleged that answers to judge certification exams were leaked from the HCoJ to at least one of the candidates. Akhvlediani says that after voicing these allegations the HCoJ launched disciplinary proceedings against him. According to the HCoJ it studied the issue of alleged leak of exam answers and found possible wrongdoing, which was referred for further investigation to the Prosecutor’s Office.
At a meeting on February 22, the HCoJ decided with 12 votes to 1 to dismiss Akhvlediani, citing that he was violating rule of assigning cases to judges set by the HCoJ.
“These are completely groundless allegations,” Akhvlediani told Imedi TV. “It was revenge by Supreme Court Chairperson and Secretary of HCoJ [Levan Murusidze] against me.”
“It has nothing to do with his public statements… It’s not ‘revenge’; there was a violation of rules and the [judicial] council reacted appropriately,” said Chairperson of the Supreme Court, Nino Gvenetadze, who also chairs the HCoJ.
The only member of HCoJ who voted against of Akhvlediani’s dismissal was Vakhtang Mchedlishvili, who was appointed in the HCoJ by President Giorgi Margvelashvili. Eight members of HCoJ are judges and four members were appointed by the Parliament.
“I think that the Council made two mistakes today. First – it violated principle of fairness and did not listen to the arguments of [Akhvlediani], although he was requesting to give him time till Friday for presenting his arguments and factual circumstances. Second – the HCoJ went beyond its authority and assumed functions of disciplinary committee by imposing disciplinary sanction on [Akhvlediani] by dismissing him from the [Tbilisi City Court] chairmanship,” said Mchedlishvili, whose position was not shared by 12 other members of the HCoJ, who were present at the meeting on February 22.
Secretary of the HCoJ, Levan Murusidze, said that Akhvlediani “ignored” for multiple times request by the council to meet and discuss issues that he was raising, as well as complaints the HCoJ had against him. “There was no willingness on his part to cooperate,” Murusidze said of Akhvlediani.
According to the existing legislation it is up to the HCoJ to appoint and dismiss chairpersons of courts (except of the Supreme Court). A legislative proposal, drafted by the Justice Ministry, which was passed with its first reading by the Parliament last week, will change this rule by allowing judges of a respective court to name three candidates for their court’s chairmanship and it will be then up to the HCoJ to pick from the proposed three candidates.
The proposed bill, which has yet to be adopted with its second and third readings, will also introduce electronic case assigning system that would provide for randomly assigning cases to judges, minimizing the role of court chairpersons in the process.