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Controversial judge elected in Court of Appeals

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, December 28
The President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelahsvili, made a special statement over the election of one of the most controversial judges in the Court of Appeals of Georgia.

Judge Levan Murusidze, who currently serves as the Secretary of the independent judicial body - the High Council of Justice (HCoJ) - and also is a Supreme Court judge, was elected as a lifetime judge of the Court of Appeals by HCoJ.

His re-election as a judge was condemned by several Georgian Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and the opposition, who stated that Murusidze’s name was related to several notorious murder and torture cases under the previous state leadership, Sandro Girgvliani’s murder case in 2006 among them.

They claimed that Murusidze delivered “unfair verdicts” on the cases and that the “injustice” was recognised in international courts’ repeated verdicts on the cases.

“Such a negative attitude to such decisions [the elections] has been formed in public for years based on the cases that united Georgians and alarmed the European Court of Human Rights,” Margvelahsvili said.

“I want to tell the public that the single member of the HCoJ who represents the President in the refused to participate in the voting [for Murusidze] today.”

“The major priority of the state is to produce an independent judiciary. The fight to create a fair court in Georgia is ongoing and I will bring this battle to an end,” the President stressed.

Being appointed as a judge of the Court of Appeals was likely to be of utmost importance for Murusidze, as his term in the Supreme Court expires in April 2016.

If he failed to be re-elected as a judge of the Court of Appeals, he would automatically lose his Secretarial post in the HCoJ after April 2016.

There were 61 vacant positions for the Court of Appeals’ judges and more than 100 applicants took part in the competition. For appointment as a judge, a candidate must have gained 2/3 of votes of 14 Council members as the head of HCoJ, the head of the Supreme Court of Georgia, had no right to vote. Murusidze managed to gain 10 votes out of the 14 members of the HCoJ, as one voted against him and other three did not participate in the voting process. Murusidze himself stated during the elections that no one had the right to interfere in the activities of the HCoJ, and declared the President’s statement as pressure on the independent body.

“The President’s statement could be perceived as pressure on the HCoJ. Like the court, the HCoJ is an independent body and no one has the right to interfere in its activities,” Murusidze said.

Eka Beselia, a member of the parliamentary majority, Georgian Dream (GD), said that the ruling party and the Government stood aside from the process and in no way influence the elections.

“The court system is independent and we never interfere in its activities. The HCoJ made the decision, which I’m sure was a hard one,” Beselia said.

In her previous statement, Georgia’s Defence Minister Tinatin Khidasheli revealed her negative attitude towards Murisidze.

The head of the Free Democrats opposition party, Irakli Alasania, stated that “the election of Muruslidze was an offence to Georgian society”.

He accused the current Government members of supporting the judge.

The Free Democrats and the United National Movement claimed that members of the current Georgian Government helped Murusidze to be re-elected.

The HCoJ is an independent body, created to coordinate judiciary systems and to promote the effectiveness and independence of the judiciary.

The HCoJ consists of 15 members. The Parliament elects five non-judge members of the Council from candidates nominated by legal advocacy NGOs, the Georgian Bar Association and law schools and faculties of institutions of higher education. Eight judge members are elected by the self-government body of Georgia’s common courts-the Conference of Judges. The President of Georgia has the right to nominate a single candidate in the body.

The recent HCoJ staff was composed in 2013 under the new Government of Georgia, and Murusidze became the Secretary of the HCoJ at that time through a solution of the Conference of Judges.

However, the new staff of the body was not welcomed by Georgia’s Minister of Justice Thea Tsulukiani, who stated that some members of the Council should not have been elected by the Conference of Judges due to their “previous activities and black spots in their careers”.

Meanwhile, the then-Chairperson of the Supreme Court, Kote Kublashvili, who took the post under the previous state leadership, criticized Tsulukiani for her statements and stressed that the process was “transparent” and that the judges had never been suppressed by anyone.