Access to justice in Georgia is still a problematic issue and there are many gaps in this regard. Full access to justice means that all people have the right to address the court for the protection of their rights and that they are guaranteed a fair and timely trial, however, this right sometimes only exists in theory, as in some cases, citizens practically do not have access to the court.

As of today, people apply to the court to restore their violated rights depending on their territorial location, however, only formal application is not enough for fast and fair consideration of their case. In this regard, people face many obstacles, such as the inability to pay state duty fees, formal fluency of the application for the lawsuit (which requires access to legal aid), fast, fair, timely consideration of the court case, and other factors. Among the listed factors hindering access to justice, I would highlight one of the main issues - timely consideration of the cases. It is impossible to talk about access to justice if there is no opportunity in the country for timely consideration of cases, in a reasonable timeframe.

The legislation of Georgia establishes different terms for consideration for different categories of disputes in court, however, it is very problematic today, as the court often does not complete the consideration of cases within the time limits set by the law. Moreover, the case may remain unconsidered for years. To better illustrate the problem, below are some cases when people have been waiting for years for their hearing.

Citizen B. K. addressed Kutaisi City Court requesting to prevent interference with the examination of his property rights. Kutaisi City Court started a case review in January 2022. During this time, one of the opposing parties passed away and the citizen had to file a new lawsuit (clarify the claim) and remove the deceased from the opposing parties. The new lawsuit was subject to the procedures established for filing a claim, which the citizen had to undergo during the initial claim. Thus, the judge had the right to refuse to accept the claim on certain grounds and continue the process indefinitely. The judge tried to refuse consideration of the case, but, finally, took a final decision on June 5, 2022. The reasoned decision was handed over to the parties on July 3, 2022. It took 4 years for citizen B. K. to complete the case in the first instance. Despite the completion of the case review at the first instance, the citizen does not agree with the court’s decision and has appealed to the Kutaisi Court of Appeals. Case consideration takes even longer in the higher instance court. Accordingly, we can say that citizen B. K. does not have access to his/her right to the fast, fair, and timely consideration of his case. It should be noted that according to the Civil Procedure Code of Georgia, the term of consideration of civil cases by the court is 2 months, and for especially difficult category cases, it can be extended for 5 months.

G. J.’s case is about his residential house, in which one of the microfinance organizations secretly alienated other persons with a gross violation of the law and without any prior warning. He and his family members accidentally found out about the alienation. The plaintiff does not have other residential places. The plaintiff lives in the disputed residential house with his mother, father, wife, and two young children. G. J.’s submitted the claim to the court in 2020, with the aim to get his residence back. The case has not been reviewed yet. The plaintiff’s right to a fair trial has been violated. Due to the incapability of timely restoration of ownership of his residential house, the plaintiff faces many problems, such as, for example, registering as a subscriber for gas supply, requiring the consent of the property owner, etc.

I would also like to mention one of those cases, where the Kutaisi City Court left the plaintiff without the possibility to exercise the right to the trial at all. In 2018, citizen R. S. filed a lawsuit to the Kutaisi City Court due to his illegal dismissal from a workplace. The plaintiff was refused 5 times to accept the lawsuit into the proceeding. The grounds for the court refusing the suit were different. One of the reasons for the refusal was the amount of state fee, which appeared should have been paid for each defendant separately. According to the Civil Procedure Code, amount of state fee on civil cases, including labor disputes, shall be 3% of the value of a subject matter of dispute, but not less than GEL 100. Accordingly, the amount of the state fee is determined not by the number of defendants, but by the value of a subject matter of dispute. Despite this, R.S. for the claim to be accepted in the proceedings agreed to the request incorrectly determined by the court and paid the state fee according to the number of defendants. In 2020, the court proceedings started on the case. Kutaisi City Court refused R. S. to satisfy the claim due to the limitation period of the claim. The court had violated citizens’ right to a fair trial. R.S. filed a lawsuit within the time limit established by law but did not attach the decision of refusal to accept his lawsuit in the proceedings. With this ground, the same judge did not satisfy the suit. By doing so, the court deliberately denied citizen R. S. the right to a fair and timely consideration of the case.

The cases indicated above clearly show that citizens’ constitutional to a fair trial was not implemented in practice. Therefore, it is obvious that in some cases, citizens may be left without the right to judicial review and deprived the possibility to recover their violated rights. Additionally, the efficiency of dispute resolution by the court decreases when consideration of civil cases take years in the court. Thus, it is important that every citizen equally enjoy their right to the fair and timely consideration of their cases.

Georgian Court Watch Project: "Active Citizen Involvement for a Better Judicial System"

The article was prepared with funding from the European Foundation, within the framework of a grant from the Danish International Development Agency. The author is responsible for its content. The article does not reflect the official positions of the European Foundation and the Danish International Development Agency.

Author: Ana Chapidze