Venice Commission Report over Selection of Judges Sparks Mixed Reactions

The Venice Commission has released their recommendations about the controversial issue of the selection and appointment of Supreme Court judges in Georgia, which was followed by various reactions in the country: ruling Georgian Dream (GD) claimed they are positive, while the opposition and the third sector state the opinion of the commission is critical.

The 14-page document reads that the High Council of Justice (HCoJ), which nominates the judges, enjoys very low trust from a large segment of society.

“Nevertheless, the fact that the HCoJ – in its current situation – will be selecting nearly all the candidates for judges of the Supreme Court, producing a list which will then be submitted to a political majority in Parliament (in between elections), which in turn will appoint nearly all the Supreme Court judges, should be a matter of concern,” it says, adding this may be detrimental to the high level of public trust that an institution such as the Supreme Court must enjoy in a country.

The document reads that in order to reduce such problems, the Venice Commission suggests transforming the fixed term of office of the current Supreme Court judges to lifetime appointments.

The commission says that the Parliament should only appoint the number of Supreme Court judges which is absolutely necessary to render the work of the Supreme Court manageable, adding how many new judges will be needed to achieve this should be decided after consultations with the Supreme Court.

“The number should not exceed half of the 18 to 20 positions that will be vacant. Further appointments may then be made by Parliament elected at the next general elections. Such a staggered approach in the appointment of all the Supreme Court judges may both alleviate the present burden on the Supreme Court and ensure that it enjoys the public trust and respect it deserves in the long-run,“ reads the report.

The request for an urgent opinion was made by the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidze, after the introduction of a 10-member list of Supreme Court judges caused uproar and criticism. The Commission was asked to evaluate the amendments containing the provisions on the selection and appointment of Supreme Court judges, including the main draft initiated by Kobakhidze and the ruling GD which was adopted by Parliament with the first reading on March 20.

The Commission says that the draft law is too lenient with respect to the age and experience requirements, and suggests higher formal thresholds for both. It also says that persons with such qualifications should not be forced to sit an examination to prove that they are capable of dealing with points of law.

The Commission also recommends that conducting secret ballots in the HCoJ should be abolished, and the procedure of selection should be based on objective criteria on which each candidate is evaluated. Also, the candidates should receive scores, which will allow a list of the best candidates to be presented to Parliament.

Kobakhidze held a press conference regarding the issue, saying the recommendations of the Venice Commission would be taken into account. He said that the published opinion was mostly positive, adding a “great part of the recommendations can be accepted, including the removal of judicial examination from the selection criteria.”

“As for political recommendations (referring to the recommendation that further appointments may be made after the next Parliamentary polls), we will definitely discuss them, but such recommendations will not be reflected in the draft law,” he stated.

Former member of the GD, Eka Beselia, who quit the party after a conflict of interests over the issue of judges, says the conclusion is a “real slap in the face” of the ruling party.

“It is impossible to criticize the draft more sharply than it is in the Venice Commission opinion. When the Venice Commission tells you that the High Council of Justice enjoys low public trust and the Parliament should not elect all judges now and some of them should be elected by the next Parliament, this means that neither the HCoJ nor the Parliament enjoy any trust,” she stated.

Opposition party European Georgia believes the report answered all the questions regarding setting the criteria of the selection of judges.

“Trust towards the High Council of Justice is low based on the information that was provided to the Venice Commission. Therefore, they called on the authorities that this Parliament should not compose the Supreme Court and at least one half of judges should be elected by the next Parliament,” he stressed.

NGOs also say the recommendations are very critical and need to be taken into account.

By Thea Morrison

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18 April 2019 16:49