Judiciary

Georgian government nominates controversial candidate for the ECHR

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ევა გოცირიძე Photo: რუსთავი 2

The Georgian government proposed judge Eva Gotsiridze as a new candidate for Georgia’s seat on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Her candidacy was highly criticized by major NGOs in the country and from opposition parties because of her support for the attempted government take-over of broadcaster Rustavi 2 in 2015. Gotsiridze had previously worked in the judicial system under the Shevardnadze government.

Eva Gotsiridze actively supported the judge who presided over the Rustavi 2 court case, Tamaz Urtmelidze. Judge Urtmelidze’s November 2015 ruling appointed an interim management for Rustavi 2 TV -- a major broadcaster in Georgia which is highly critical of the Georgian Dream government. Judge Urtmelidze justified his ruling by claiming that the TV station provided biased coverage of the court proceedings and engaged in criticism of his authority. Urtmelidze’s ruling was widely seen as a political move; it was was criticized by civil society groups as an attempt to interfere in the TV channel’s editorial policy and to justify the quick take-over of the broadcaster.

Gotsiridze argued that the ruling did not violate freedom of expression, and miscited a case from the ECHR to support the ruling. On live television, she falsely represented the Hrico vs. Slovakia case which was fought in the ECHR in 2004 -- and demonstrated her lack of knowledge of ECHR practices. The Hrico vs. Slovakia case proved the opposite of her argument: The ECHR ruled in favour of freedom of expression of the media, and against the Slovakian court for breaching the freedom of expression of a journalist. Discussing the Rustavi 2 court verdict, Eva Gotsiridze maintained that freedom of expression can be subject to restrictions and that Urtmelidze’s decision could have been justified on those grounds.  

In October 2015, Gotsiridze’s husband, Mindia Ugrekelidze, was nominated by the government as a candidate for the Venice Commission. Mindia Ugrekhelidze previously served under the Shevardnadze government and in the communist regime in high-level positions. Judge Ugrekhelidze's son, Papuna Ugrekhelidze, who is Eva Gotsiridze’s stepson, is the head of the National Agency of Public Registry. In connection with the Rustavi 2 ownership dispute, on September 29, 2015, the Public Registry dubiously refused to register a decision by the Rustavi 2 owners to sell 51% of their shares in the company Ltd TV Georgia, claiming the contract contain legal flaws. Days later, on October 1, 2015, TV Georgia’s assets were frozen by a decision of the Tbilisi Civil Court.

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Gotsiridze’s nomination for the European Court of Human Rights was criticized by the Coalition for independent and Transparent Judiciary, the Georgian Bar Association, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), as well opposition parties, namely  Free Democrats and United National Movement (UNM). The opposition claims that the government is now rewarding Gotsiridze for her earlier support for them.

The Coalition for Independent and Transparent Judiciary issued a statement saying that the government violated procedures and the process clearly was a formality. The Coalition refers to Gotsiridze’s support for the appointment of Levan Murusidze to the appellate court in December 2015; as a judge Murusidze presided over a number controversial cases, among them the Girgvliani murder case. The coalition in the statement says her support creates doubts that Gotsiridze was guided by political motives rather than law. Following Gotsiridze’s proposed candidacy, Zaza Khatiashvili, the Chairman of the Georgian Bar Association, commented that Gotsiridze lacks qualification and her controversial judicial record makes her unsuitable for the position.

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In February 2016, a governmental commision selected five candidates to be nominated for the position at the European Court of Human Rights. Out of the five candidates, three are nominated before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE); PACE then elects a person to represent Georgia at the European Court of Human Rights.

In May 2016, the Ministry of Justice conducted the selection process and has now decided that only two of the candidates passed the ECHR vetting process. According to the Ministry, Giorgi Badashvili and Aleksandre Baramidze passed the the requirements set by the European convention; however they found that the third nominee, Nana Mchedlidze, lacked work experience in the judiciary system and decided to replace her with Gotsiridze.

Gotsiridze has served as a member of the High Council of Justice of Georgia since 2013, representing the Georgian Dream.  

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