South Caucasus: Building confidence in the justice systems
In the republics of the South Caucasus – Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – the legal systems continue to evolve. Substantial progress has already been made, but further reforms are needed. Growing legal security encourages foreign investment – and thus sustainable economic development in the region.
An independent judicial system is a fundamental prerequisite for the rule of law in any country. It is essential in protecting and promoting human rights and democratic principles, and also supports sustainable economic development.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, however, the legal systems in many former Soviet republics had numerous weaknesses, with poorly functioning institutions and lengthy procedures. Legal uncertainty was a major impediment to these countries’ economic development, and there was a corresponding lack of public confidence in the justice system.
Professional exchange among practitioners is a more productive process than a theoretical academic debate about the problems these countries face.
Rudolf Mellinghoff, Federal Constitutional Court judge, 2001-2011
Reforms of the legal system
After gaining their independence, the republics of the South Caucasus made efforts to reform their legal systems, taking European standards, particularly the European Convention on Human Rights, as a frame of reference for this process. Since the early 1990s, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has been assisting the countries of the South Caucasus – first Georgia, and then its two neighbours, Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well – to address this challenge.
Despite the major progress achieved over recent years, further reforms in these countries’ legal and justice systems are needed. Reform efforts are often hampered by inadequate technical and professional expertise, training institutions do not coordinate their activities to a sufficient extent, and standards are inconsistent. There is also a lack of public awareness of the legal and judicial reforms.
More dialogue and information: building the justice system’s reputation
More dialogue and information: building the justice system’s reputation On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ is providing support to its partners in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan at various levels. Firstly, it invites jurists to networking and dialogue events on legal issues of relevance to the region. By 2017, a total of nine regional academies had been held, attracting more than 200 participants. Within this network, experts collaborate on supporting the legal reforms: for example, alumni exchange information on new research findings, produce comparative regional studies on aspects of the law, and create web content with legal information.
Secondly, GIZ advises the relevant ministries on proposed legislation, particularly on the drafting process, during which public consultation is required. In addition, each year, more than 400 judicial and administrative officials attend training and professional development events, which focus mainly on the application of specific laws. Training capacities have also been built, with 75 people attending trainer programmes to date. Campaigns run in partnership with civil society are improving citizens’ awareness of their rights.
New technologies create transparency
Digital solutions are also being harnessed to increase public and investor trust in the justice system. A relatively new technology called blockchain is being used by the national public registry in Georgia to make land register entries available digitally. Blockchain is a list of data records that contains all transactions ever conducted. Everyone can see the latest status of the exchange process, which means that data cannot be changed without everyone knowing. Around one million land register entries have already been published online.
But Georgia wants to go one step further. In future, the aim is for real estate transactions to be handled completely via blockchain – including proof of the identity of the buyer and seller. Around 3.7 million people in Georgia will benefit from transparent, secure and more efficient land registration. GIZ has already taken steps to establish the legal framework for the ‘smart contracts’ required for this – pioneering a new approach to legal processes.