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Georgia: EU Legal Mission Head Says Judicial Reforms Will Take Years

  • Ahto Lobjakas --> The EU will in July call back its first ever rule-of-law mission from Georgia. The union then expects the country to adopt and implement a comprehensive reform strategy for its criminal-justice system. The mission is headed by an experienced French judge, Sylvie Pantz, and comprises eight senior legal experts from a number of EU member states.

Brussels, 21 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Pantz has spent a number of years in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, overseeing the transformation of the legal systems there.

Looking back at that experience, she said the changes were not -- and are not -- easy for the Balkan countries. But, she added, they will be harder still for Georgia.

Pantz said it is implementation, not laws, that worries her most -- especially when it comes to the question of whether Georgia will have a European-standard legal system in the foreseeable future.

“If you are talking about laws [themselves], substantive law, I would say ‘yes.’ What is more worrying, including today, about Georgia, is the practice," Pantz said. "Because you can have the ideal law criminal procedural code [anywhere] on Earth [or in] paradise, but what we found out, what we are working on, is more the use they are [making of] those laws.”

Pantz said the Georgian justice system has been “a bit lost” since the 2003 Rose Revolution. There has been an influx of young Georgians with legal degrees acquired abroad, but with no practical court-room experience. That has made reforms difficult.

The aim of Pantz’s mission was to bring in practical experience. All eight members of her team are seasoned experts who have practiced criminal law for at least 10 years, some in former Soviet countries such as Lithuania and Latvia.

Pantz said Georgia has a fundamental decision to make.

She said to streamline its currently cumbersome judicial process, Georgia must opt for a model that either focuses on the investigation or the trial.

“[Georgia’s]criminal system until now was -- is still -- a sort of mixture of [two] systems," Pantz said. "It is very much inquisitorial during the pretrial phase and then it is adversarial during the trial. Which is to say that the delays, the deadlines are very long.”

Pantz pointed to the French judicial system, which has an intensive pretrial phase, but where trials are short.

In Georgia, after lengthy investigations, witnesses are required to show up at trial. Pantz observed that “this is a bit difficult in the Caucasus,” given the mountainous terrain, bad roads, and the relative scarcity of cars. As a result, she said, a case that would take two days in France might take eight months in Georgia.
“To produce an independent judge [means] not to buy your law degree, but to deserve it, to have a legal education, a real education with exams, with tests, with training, with good teachers.” -- Judge Pantz

Pantz said the situation is made worse by the fact that the judges are not sufficiently independent.

“On top of it, the judges in Georgia, criminal judges, [their] major [problem] is that the judges are not educated to decide," Pantz said. "They are not proud to decide, they are scared, they are vulnerable. Most of them -- they do not want to decide, which may explain also the lengthy duration of these criminal proceedings.”

Advising Georgian authorities on how to create the conditions necessary for the independence of the judiciary is a key task of Pantz’s mission.

Pantz said professional standards must come first.

“To produce an independent judge from my own perspective -- and it is the sort of advice we are giving to our Georgian partners -- it [means] not to buy your law degree, but to deserve it, to have a legal education, a real education with exams, with tests, with training, with good teachers,” Pantz said.

Pantz stressed that centralized training will help overcome isolation among judges. They make friends among their colleagues and, as a result, are “more difficult to threaten.” The same cause is helped by the creation of judges’ associations, the payment of sufficient salaries, and the growth of public recognition. In short, Pantz said, judges must be protected by their status.

She said it will take years before Georgian judges are truly independent.

Meanwhile, Pantz said, the best possible course of action is to retrain current judges and apply disciplinary oversight to weed out the corrupt officials. At the same time, “new blood” must be injected in the form of younger properly educated judges.

So far, Georgia is the only country in the former Soviet Union to have applied for EU assistance in the legal field. Pantz said other countries in the region and farther afield could benefit, too.

“I’m told by colleagues of mine who have had the opportunity to travel and to more or less live in Azerbaijan that Azerbaijan would need badly such a mission like the one I have conducted in Georgia," Pantz said. "And as I explained today in [an EU seminar], I like the concept of EUJUST-Themis (the name of the mission in Georgia) that I’m conducting nowadays. I think it can be used everywhere in the world, whether it is Azerbaijan, whether it is Africa or Asia, I think it should be used.”

Pantz emphasized that the only precondition for EU legal assistance is that the government receiving it must be committed to carrying out the necessary reforms.