A strong legal system and independent judiciary are the cornerstones of democracy. Georgia has made many legislative changes and took significant steps towards establishing judicial independence in the country. Despite such positive changes, many critics argue that Georgian judiciary has yet to become a truly independent branch of the government. Numerous assertions have been made by local civil society organizations (CSOs) and international organizations about the lack of judicial independence, which seems to be a problem in administrative and criminal law cases. In such context, it is important that civil society unites efforts in monitoring the on-going judicial system reform and advocates for an independent and transparent judiciary. Therefore, the Civic Initiative for an Independent Judiciary (CIIJ) project, implemented by Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF) and funded by the USAID through East West Management Institute, acquires a special significance.
Civic Initiative for an Independent Judiciary project aims at engaging the local civil society in monitoring the relevant judicial practices and advocating for an independent and transparent judiciary.
To support judicial independence and transparency, the project covers the following:
- EPF leads the effort of establishment and strengthening of the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary www.coalition.org.ge to promote the civil society engagement and government accountability in pursuit of an independent and efficient judiciary. The coalition, consisting of 32 member CSOs, media and business organizations fosters collaboration to avoid redundancy among the partners and other organizations, unites the CSOs in their monitoring and advocacy efforts, and facilitates legislative and regulatory advocacy in support of further judicial reforms.
- Under the project EPF issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for competitive advocacy grants to an NGO or to a coalition of at least two NGOs (or a NGO and a media outlet) to promote policy debates and changes in Georgia’s legal system. During the first year of the project, EPF awarded 8 grants for monitoring, advocacy, and public education campaigns.
- To provide quality legal representation to the public in civil, administrative, and criminal law matters, EPF held a publicly announced competition to award grants to NGOs willing and able to provide legal services to those segments of population that need it the most. EPF awarded five grants during year 1 and an additional four grants will be awarded on 3 of the project.
- As a result of these grant competitions EPF awarded 13 grants (5 in Legal Aid and 8 in Advocacy). Grantees were awarded with relevant certificates during the Grants Award Ceremony which was preceded by the second public forum of the Coalition. Currently, EPF carefully monitors the successful implementation of the projects.
- Throughout the term of the project, EPF’s Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC) will engage in baseline collection efforts aimed at measuring the opinions of the public, legal professional groups and court users regarding the independence of Georgian judiciary. It will also conduct focus group sessions among different groups to estimate public opinion regarding judiciary in the country. These efforts will continue throughout the year to measure the impact of the project.
- To help build a stronger and more sustainable NGO community dedicated to democracy and the rule of law development in Georgia, EPF works with partner NGOs receiving JILEP-supported grants on improving their capacity, through the use of its innovative CMI tool. The CMI will be implemented in two rounds (tied to the grant-making). Grantees will undergo an initial and then a final assessment at the end of the grant period. EPF will consult and assist its grantees in organizational development throughout the lifetime of the grant. Following each organization’s initial, baseline capacity-mapping report, EPF will work together with each organization to collaboratively design an organizational development plan with recommendations and concrete steps to be taken over the course of the grant period.
Project Outcome Statement
During the past 4 years of supporting the JILEP project, EPF’s operational and grantmaking activities have made significant contributions to increased civic participation in Georgia’s rule of law reforms. EPF’s painstaking efforts to create and support the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary have been successful in terms of ensuring broad participation of various civil society actors, such as the human rights defenders, watchdogs, professional and business associations, and the media. Throughout the four year period, EPF ensured that the Coalition was governed in a democratic manner, following the Charter and other procedural documents adopted by the Coalition membership during its inaugural meeting on April 29, 2011. The Coalition started with 29 members and has since grown to 32 local civil society actors, which operate in five working groups that, in turn, support the substantive work of the Coalition.
During the past four years, the Coalition issued 29 statements, reflecting the membership’s common positions on various rule of law issues. In addition, 10 high profile public forums were organized, to discuss issues of court governance and transparency, judicial appointment and disciplinary responsibility, commercial and tax law and practice, administrative detention and imprisonment, plea bargaining and victims’ rights, and studying miscarriages of justice. EPF’s status of an objective interlocutor and the weight of the united civil society have ensured that the forums were attended on the highest level, with the participants included high ranking officials of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government. These forums created healthy discussions and have led to several tangible changes, including improving the transparency of disciplinary proceedings against judges, strengthening the role of the Conference of Judges in judicial governance, and improving transparency of court proceedings. As noted by the Ministry of Justice, bulk of changes and amendment to the Law of Georgia on Common Courts that were initiated after the October 2012 elections were derived from the recommendations developed earlier by the Coalition.
In addition, to creating and supporting the Coalition, EPF provided more than $1.5 million in grant support to local NGOs for rule of law advocacy campaigns and provision of legal aid to the indigent. A total of 24 grants were issued and completed, of which 10 were directed toward legal aid and improved access to justice, while the remaining 14 projects carried out evidence-based advocacy in support of judicial independence and transparency, improved commercial legislation and practice, and enhanced independence of various justice sector institutions. As a result of these projects, more than 18,500 people received free legal advice and more than 1,300were provided free legal representation in front of administrative and judicial organs with around 40% success rate. In addition, advocacy efforts waged by EPF’s grantees have led to multiple positive legislative changes. For example, EPF grantees have successfully advocated for changed in tax legislation so that the debtor’s obligation to pay tax-related debt is considered suspended from the day of the commencement of a tax dispute until its completion. The grantee advocacy efforts have also increased a threshold for criminal liability for tax evasion from 25,000 Lari to 50,000 Lari and affected the repeal of the law enabling the Revenue Service to seize a company’s assets for taxes owed regardless of the prior bank lien on them.
EPF’s efforts under the JILEP have also had tangible positive impact on institutional capacity of local NGOs, with EPF providing organizational development (OD) support to most of its grantees, based on their interest in and commitment to institutional growth. With its proprietary CMI tool, EPF assessed the level of institutional strength of the NGOs and then provided financial and technical assistance to develop and implement OD strategic action plans. With the follow up CMI assessment, EPF helped the grantee NGOs to ascertain the progress made as a result of their efforts and gave these organizations a road map for future improvements. As a result of these efforts, 85% of the OD support recipients updated their governing documents, 77% developed long-term strategies, 92% improved their external communications, 85% participated in professional development trainings relevant to NGO management and fundraising, 54% enhanced their internal communications systems, 62% improved financial management procedures and practices, and 38% enhanced board governance.
Already, EPF’s beneficiary organizations have noted tangible positive results of their organizational development work. For example, the leadership the Article 42 of the Constitution attributes its recent fundraising success to the technical and financial assistance it received from EPF to strengthen its institutional capacity. The organization was able to raise more than $0.5 million in direct funding from USAID for its gender equality project shortly after the completion of two projects funded by EPF. Similarly, the Association Anika, which works with the hearing impaired children, credits EPF’s support for its three-year funding from the World Jewish Relief. This achievement is especially important, given the fact that since its establishment in 1997, the Association had not received any long-term funding. The management of the Association attributes this fundraising success to project writing and management trainings it was able to complete as part of EPF-supported project.