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Our Rule of Law work in Georgia

In 2022, as a subcontractor to East-West Management Institute, ABA ROLI helped launch a five-year project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Through USAID’s Georgia Rule of Law Program, ABA ROLI seeks to support the implementation of justice reforms aimed at improving the independence, transparency, accountability, and efficiency of core justice institutions, service providers, and actors.

Rule of Law Reform

ABA is organizing a host of study visits and other judicial exchanges. The content and structure of the exchanges are shaped significantly by the participating Georgian judges themselves. In support of Rule of Law Practice Groups in Georgia, the program designs and delivers study visits to the United States focusing on substantive issues like rights of the child, labor law, and people-centered justice, as well as procedural issues, like court and case management, judicial ethics, and judges’ freedom of expression. ABA ROLI also seconds Georgian judges to US state courts to facilitate professional connections and development. We are also placing US judges in Georgian courts to “shadow” their Georgian counterparts to introduce new case and court management practices and to enhance greater judicial independence. With the active participation of American judges, ABA ROLI also convenes and delivers trainings and workshops for judges in Georgia aimed at professional growth and development. We also support judges’ participation in professional growth opportunities outside of Georgia, such as conferences, master classes, seminars, summer schools, and training courses. 

In addition, ABA/ROLI assists in improving national standards on legal education and law school accreditation, sharing the US experience in internal quality assurance mechanisms for legal education, and assisting with practical skills teaching and clinical legal education development across the country, among other activities. We also provide short term expert advisors on topics including judicial appointment and disciplinary practices, legal and judicial ethics, and bench-bar meetings.

Georgian Delegation of Judges Visit Washington DC, New York City, and Syracuse in 2023

Georgian Delegation of Judges Visit Washington DC, New York City, and Syracuse in 2023

Past Work in Georgia

Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity

ABA ROLI supported anti-corruption efforts and promoted the ratification of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). ABA ROLI also assisted the Georgian government in implementing a national anti-corruption strategy and anti-corruption action plan, adopted in June 2005 and March 2006, respectively.

ABA ROLI led a team of experts that prepared a comprehensive treatise on harmonizing domestic legislation with the provisions of UNCAC, a prerequisite for ratification. Following Georgia’s ratification of the UNCAC in 2008, ABA ROLI helped educate the public about the May 2008 parliamentary elections and trained more than 100 lawyers in preparation for anticipated election-related complaints.

Criminal Law Reform

In Georgia, ABA ROLI trained legal aid attorneys and private criminal defense attorneys on the country’s October 2010 Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), to help them better represent and defend their clients. The code introduced jury trials and marked a transition to an adversarial legal system. ABA ROLI conducted extensive CPC training sessions for attorneys to support the transition. We also conducted trial advocacy skills and forensic evidence training sessions to enhance attorneys’ knowledge of forensic science and their ability to select, present, and cross-examine witnesses.

In 2010-2011, ABA ROLI:

  • Trained more than 1,600 of the roughly 3,000 Georgian defense attorneys on the CPC, which was adopted in October 2010, supporting preparations for Georgia’s transition to the adversarial system.
  • Worked with the Georgian judiciary to develop a jury trial bench book, which served as a guide for the country’s judges.
  • Conducted more than 35 multi-day trial advocacy skills training sessions for more than 900 attorneys—covering topics like jury selection, opening statements, direct examination, cross examination, witness impeachment, objections and closing arguments.
  • Conducted more than 70 mock jury trials—providing more than 900 legal professionals a forum to practice new skills and allowing more than 200 law students to observe them.

Judicial Reform

ABA ROLI’s judicial reform activities in Georgia focused on helping the judiciary become an independent, respected, and capable branch of government through supporting its reform process and by empowering judges. We worked closely with key international stakeholders and local partners to advance judicial ethics, strengthen judicial decision-making, improve judicial perception, and launch a case management system with the Ministry of Justice’s Enforcement Department.

Our judicial reform efforts include:

  • Conducting Judicial Education: ABA ROLI helped the Georgian judiciary reform its code of conduct to reflect international standards. ABA ROLI also provided ethics training sessions to about 100 judges, distributed 500 copies of a judicial ethics guidebook, and created and distributed 500 copies of a catalogue of 2,500 Supreme Court decisions to increase consistency in judicial decision-making.
  • Supporting the Judges of Georgia: In 1998, ABA ROLI helped establish the Judges of Georgia—the first professional association for Georgian judges. With ABA ROLI’s support, the association has since held a televised discussion on the importance of judicial reform; advocated for wrongly disciplined judges; and published a law journal, Justice and Law —distributing nine issues to more than 1,000 judges, lawyers, government agencies, and local and international non-governmental organizations.
  • Supporting a Judicial Qualification Exam: In 2005, ABA ROLI helped introduce a judicial qualification exam in Georgia. To ensure sustainability, in 2006, the High Council of Justice (HCOJ) took over the administration of the exam. ABA ROLI also worked to improve judicial selection and disciplinary procedures by organizing a conference for 50 Georgian judges and by translating and distributing related American guidebooks. Additionally, ABA ROLI experts observed the HCOJ’s interviewing procedures for judicial candidates and made recommendations for improvement.
  • Enforcing Judgments: ABA ROLI worked with the Georgian government to reform the Law on Enforcement Proceedings. In line with the law’s provisions, ABA ROLI created a case management system (CMS) to effectively track the enforcement of judgments. We also facilitated the use of the CMS by training enforcement officials and equipping Georgia’s Enforcement Department with needed technological supplies.
  • Improving Public Perception of Judges: To improve public perception of the judiciary and to foster a positive relationship between the judiciary and the media, ABA ROLI created and distributed 500 copies of a media guide to judges. ABA ROLI also worked to increase public awareness of judges’ ethical obligations and vocational duties. ABA ROLI publicized the revised Judicial Code of Conduct by placing 100 posters in courtrooms and 2,000 informational brochures.

Legal Profession Reform

ABA ROLI worked to strengthen the capacity of Georgian legal professionals and institutions to uphold the right to due process and to increase access to justice within the new adversarial system. Our legal profession reform initiatives included a range of trainings related to the CPC and trial skills that build the capacity of criminal defense attorneys to provide effective counsel to Georgian citizens. In 2015, ABA ROLI conducted additional training sessions geared towards building the capacity of the defense attorneys, improving high school and law students’ awareness of the jury trial system, and teaching journalists how to report on criminal cases more accurately.

  • Publishing CPC Commentaries: With the release of the 2010 CPC, years of disagreement among defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges followed. In 2014, ABA ROLI launched a comprehensive and ambitious project to help these three groups agree on uniform interpretations of the CPC’s provisions. In fall 2015, after over a year’s worth of meetings and drafting, ABA ROLI held a special event to launch the final CPC commentaries. We published and distributed 600 hard copies of the commentaries in addition to ensuring online access to them through the National Library of Parliament and numerous Georgian universities.
  • Training on Plea Bargaining in the European Court of Human Rights: The plea-bargaining system was introduced in the Georgian legal system in 2004 during a period of pervasive criminality and corruption. The use of plea bargaining was offered as an urgent antidote to those systemic problems. Plea bargaining implies a waiver of certain procedural rights in exchange for a more lenient sentence and an expedited trial. Nevertheless, the most substantive guarantees of a fair trial must be retained in line with Georgia’s international obligations—specifically under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In July 2014, some amendments were made to the CPC regarding the plea-bargaining system, giving judges more authority to oversee the agreements and expanding the victim’s involvement. Because these amendments remained largely unknown to criminal defense attorneys, ABA ROLI developed and implemented a European Court of Human Rights-specific plea-bargaining training program with corresponding manuals to distribute both in print and online.

  • Providing Legal Writing Training Workshops: In the context of an extradition case, legal writing takes on heightened importance. Much of the decision-making is based on written submissions, and oral advocacy often takes a back seat to a well-composed motion or brief. The logical organization, emotional tone, and style of language used in a piece of legal writing can strongly enhance or detract from a practitioner’s ability to convey his or her argument. To provide Georgian defense attorneys with these specific writing skills, ABA ROLI developed and implemented a training program with corresponding manuals to distribute, as well as publish online.
  • Conducting Study Tour Visits to the National Forensic Bureau: Before ABA ROLI developed its first forensics training in 2010, defense attorneys had requested more training sessions focused on forensics. Criminal cases can hinge on the smallest shred of forensic evidence found at a crime scene—and as more prosecutors use forensic evidence in cases, more defense attorneys realize the value of having even a basic understanding of the different manifestations of forensic science. ABA ROLI partnered with the National Forensic Bureau to bring defense attorneys on study tours of the forensic facility to afford the lawyers a basic understanding of the various fields of forensic science.
  • Holding Mock Jury Selections: In Georgia, the jury-selection process—which should normally not take more than two weeks—once took as long as five months. Responding to the legal community’s request for assistance, ABA ROLI conducted mock jury selections, allowing judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to hone their jury-selection skills.
  • Training Journalists: Covering courts is an important task for the news media—in order to fulfill its watchdog function and to be the conduit of information to the public. To help journalists write better informed, less sensational reports about jury trials, ABA ROLI conducted legal-journalism training sessions.
  • Enhancing “Street Law” Program: To further a “street law” program within the Tbilisi State University, ABA ROLI led informational courses on jury trials for young adults. Through this program, we trained law students who traveled to 28 area high schools to teach 600 students about the jury trial system. ABA ROLI also developed and published 600 copies of a related manual for distribution among high school students.

    Between 2012 and 2014, ABA ROLI created and led additional training programs for defense attorneys to better prepare them for criminal trials so there’s a level playing field between Georgian prosecutors and defense attorneys.
  • Online Learning: ABA ROLI created an “Online Learning Platform” (OLP) which served as a database for continuing legal education (CLE) programs. We helped develop 22 different courses to be housed on the platform, covering topics from advanced trial advocacy skills to European Court of Human Right-specific plea bargaining. ABA officially transferred the OLP to the Georgian Bar Association (GBA) in 2016, guaranteeing that the reservoir of trainings will continue to be available to defense attorneys in perpetuity. Because of ABA ROLI’s efforts, attorneys are better able to protect and defend criminal defendants’ human rights, judges and prosecutors are better equipped in trial under the new CPC alongside attorneys The GBA has become an effective civil society organization serving its members and the justice system of Georgia.

Women's Rights

ABA ROLI’s Women’s Rights Program (2006–2009) provided vital financial assistance to two important and impactful women’s rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) and the Centre for the Protection of Constitutional Rights (CPCR). ABA ROLI worked with these organizations in raising public awareness of the 2006 domestic violence law and the protective mechanisms it provides, consulting nearly 7,200 women on gender-related legal issues and galvanizing governmental agencies and local and international NGOs to pass and begin the effective implementation of Georgia’s first domestic violence law.

Our women’s rights initiatives included:

  • Drafting a Domestic Violence Action Plan: When Georgia’s anti-domestic violence law passed in June 2006, ABA ROLI and the GYLA helped the government draft an action plan to combat domestic violence. The action plan had important provisions, including the provision for victims’ shelters and social workers to manage domestic violence cases. On July 30, 2007, the Georgian government approved the action plan.
  • Amending the Domestic Violence Law: In 2009, ABA ROLI collaborated with the United Nations Development Fund for Women to create a working group of judges, lawyers, prosecutors, patrol policemen, and NGO representatives to draft amendments to the domestic violence law. These draft amendments included decreasing the age of the potential abuser to 16 and to emphasize the call for the creation of a shelter for victims. The amendments were submitted to the government in December 2009 and were signed into law in January 2010.
  • Conducting a Domestic Violence Survey: To document the extent of domestic violence in Georgia, ABA ROLI conducted a nationwide survey and found that domestic violence was often silently sustained because of both a cultural inclination toward family privacy and the victims’ fear of adverse public reactions.
  • Producing a Domestic Violence Manual: ABA ROLI’s subgrantee GYLA created a domestic violence manual— presenting a detailed explanation of the Georgian domestic violence law and its procedural mechanisms of protection. The manual included hypothetical cases, providing sample recommendations for police, lawyers, social agencies, and others on how to effectively deal with domestic violence cases.
  • Conducting a Public Awareness Campaign: Public awareness of domestic violence as a problem is a crucial first step toward improving protections and services for women. ABA ROLI’s subgrant to GYLA supported GYLA’s efforts to teach citizens about the 2006 domestic violence law. GYLA aired a public service announcement, developed with ABA ROLI’s support, to publicize the problem of domestic violence and encourage women to seek help. GYLA designed and published informational leaflets describing the protections in the law, including protective and restrictive orders. More than 6,000 copies of the leaflets were distributed across the country.
  • Providing Legal Aid to Survivors: With ABA ROLI’s support, GYLA and the CPCR provided free legal assistance in the form of in-person and hotline consultations to more than 7,200 domestic violence survivors. The legal advice sought and provided centered on family law (divorce), but also encompassed labor law and criminal prosecution.