Tag Archives: NGO Coalition

Georgia: Judicial independence and The parliamentary majority

Georgia: Judicial independence and The parliamentary majority

The issue of composition of the judiciary is one of the most significant challenges to Georgian politics in recent years. Various reforms have been implemented to the judicial branch, following the Georgian Dream Party’s election to governing power since 2012; however, questions about the independence of the court remain. In particular, the then-new government noted the political biases of judges appointed by the previous government, and pointed to various high-profile cases, including cases involving former high-ranking officials adjudicated at the European Court of Human Rights, where domestic judgements were in favour of these former officials. At that time, the government pledged to appoint qualified and conscientious judges to the judiciary.

In 2018, following the inauguration of the new president, new constitutional rules were put in place for appointment to the judiciary where Justices of the Supreme Court of Georgia were selected by the High Council of Justice instead of the President, and approved by the Parliament for life. Implementation of these rules have degenerated into public debacles.

In one instance, the chair of the Supreme Court – and a key player in discussions on judicial reform with the government – resigned, leaving the government in a lurch.[1] The Georgian President began consultations to select a new chair, but failed to include the majority party in parliament in these discussions. [2] As a result, there was no consensus, and the candidate was not confirmed. [3] The failure to follow the process was severely criticized by the NGO coalition. [4] 

In the most recent instance in December 24, 2018, the Council chose 10 candidates for life to the Supreme Court, per the constitutional rules. The appointments were severely criticized by non-judge members Anna Dolidze[5] and Nazi Janezashvili,[6] who pointed out the lack of transparency of the appointment process. The NGO Coalition[7] and Ombudsman[8] also voiced their objections to the process, and ten Supreme Court justices rejected the appointments. [9] In response, the Parliamentary Chair announced that the selection of the cadets will be conducted in accordance with pre-set procedures and criteria,[10] to be debated in 2019.[11]

The selection of judges has been an issue of contention in parliament since the opening of the Spring parliamentary session 2019. In particular, in accordance to the constitutional rules, the High Council of Justice appointed judges and, in the process, retained a majority appointed by the previous government. Further, according to the latest data, 154 of the 298 judges appointed will serve for life. [12] On average, this may mean that each will remain in court for another 20 years, which may become a significant threat to justice and democracy in Georgia. Eka Beselia, the chair of the Legal Issues Committee of the Parliament, resigned from his position in protest, arguing that the Supreme Court should have as justices those lawyers with high qualification and reputation and who did not serve Saakashvili’s violent regime. Perhaps in an effort to downplay the significance of the party dissension on the issue, the Chair of the Parliament stated that Beselia’s resignation is not related to the issue of judges.[13] Other members of the Georgian Dream have also left the majority party in protest, so that there is no longer a constitutional majority in the Parliament of Georgia.

Of critical importance is the continued debate over procedure and criteria for selection of judges to achieve transparency and open selection of candidates. To these ends, two non-judge members of the High Council of Justice, Nazi Janezashvili and Ana Dolidze submitted an initiative to the Parliament on January 15, 2019, proposing selection based on five basic principles. These include: creation of a consulting group; announcement of the competition for selection of candidates for the judiciary of the Supreme Court; avoid conflicts of interest; open interviews; decision consensus.[14] In line with this initiative, a working group was created by the parliamentary majority to create selection criteria; however, most of the NGOs refused to work in the group alongside judges who had been part of the previous opague selection process that appointed ten justices for life.

Separately, nine MPs proposed an initiative to postpone lifetime appointments till 31 December 2024 in the District (City) and Appeal Court. They argue that there is a transitional provision in the constitution of Georgia that the Supreme Council of Justice can postpone the appointment of judges. In their argument, new judges need to be appointed to the judiciary before the reform of the High School of Justice may be implemented. This proposal was rejected by parliament, for fear that a number of judiciary seats in the common courts will go unfilled, which would paralyze the judicial system. [15]

Meanwhile, former party leader and Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has announced a return to politics, following the departure of seven MPs from the Georgian Dream and parliamentary majority. Irakli Gharibashvili took the post of Prime Minister after Bidzina Ivanishvili in 2013, where he had been the Minister of Internal Affairs since 2012. Irakli Gharibashvili resgined on December 23, 2015, but did not explain why; [16] he has stayed on as political secretary of the party. According to Gharibashvili, one of its main missions will be the link between the party as the founders, the new generation, the more coordination, reunification and strengthening of which will work together with other members of the party, “he said, adding that the party should be stronger than in 2012 was. [17] Gharibashvili’s return to the party following the loss of its parliamentary majority may signal an effort in the ruling party to maintain unity. Current events indicate that if the split in the parliamentary majority continues, it would be a major political loss for the party in the 2020 parliamentary elections. Also, political trust in the Georgian Dream has been declining.  

How things will progress is unclear. What is clear is that the independence of the judiciary poses a major challenge for Georgian democracy. Some 20 NGOs and other experts have initiated a petition to call for, among other things: a) the resignations of judges and members of the High Council of Justice to further the reform of judicial appointments; b) the suspension of appointments of judges until reforms are adopted; c) the broader involvement of society in the reform process. Clearly, these are unlikely to be adopted; nevertheless, they do put the demands of NGOs, if not society at large, to the government and the parliament.


Posted on behalf of Malkhaz Nakashidze, 1 April, 2019.

Endnotes:

[1] The resignation letter of the Supreme Court of Georgia and the Chairman of the High Council of Justice Nino Gvenetadze, 02/08/2018, <http://www.supremecourt.ge/news/id/1769>  

[2] President of the Supreme Court chairperson’s resignation, 02-08-2018, http://web2.rustavi2.ge/ka/news/110488

[3] The President of Georgia will not presumably nominate a candidate for the Chairperson of the Supreme Court, 24.08.2018, <https://1tv.ge/news/saqartvelos-prezidenti-uzenaesi-sasamartlos-tavmjdomareobis-kandidats-savaraudod-aghar-waradgens/>

[4] The Coalition Calls on President to Change the Decision to Refuse Chairperson of the Supreme Court Decision 31 August, 2018, <https://www.transparency.ge/ge/post/koalicia-moucodebs-prezidents-shecvalos-uzenaesi-sasamartlos-tavmjdomaris-kandidatis

[5] The President appointed Ana Dolidze as a member of the High Council of Justice, 08.01.2018 <https://www.president.gov.ge/ka-GE/pressamsakhuri/siakhleebi/prezidentma-ana-dolidze-iusticiis-umaglesi-sabchos. aspx>  

[6] Resolution of the Parliament of Georgia on Nazibrola Janezashvili as the Member of the High Council of Justice of Georgia, june 21,2017, <http://www.parliament.ge/ge/ajax/downloadFile/70043/1093

[7] Coalition for “Independent and Transparent Judiciary” responds to the developments in the court and initiates the campaign “I want Wendo Court” March 01, 2018, <https://www.transparency.ge/ge/post/koalicia-damoukidebeli-da-gamchvirvale-martlmsajulebistvis-sasamartloshi-ganvitarebul-movlenebs>  

[8] Ombudsman demands to stop the process of reviewing judges of the supreme judiciary, 2018-12-26 <http://pirveliradio.ge/index.php?newsid=119158>  

[9] The 10th Supreme Court Judge addresses the Parliament and does not consider their candidates, 21.01.2019, <https://1tv.ge/news/uzenaesi-sasamartlos-mosamartleobis-10-ve-kandidati-parlaments-mimartavs-mati-kandidaturebi-ar-ganikhilon/>  

[10]Parliament will discuss at the spring session of the Supreme Court Judges, 26/12/2018, <https://civil.ge/ka/archives/272474>

[11]The new criteria will be submitted to the Parliament by the renewed list of judges, January 12, 2019, <https://imedinews.ge/ge/saqartvelo/92748/parlamentshi-akhali-kriteriumebit-mosamartleta-ganakhlebul-sias-tsaradgenen>   

[12] https://metronome.ge/story/194983

[13] http://liberali.ge/news/view/42227/gaugebaria-ratom-daukavshira-eka-beseliam-gadadgoma-am-yvelafers–kobakhidze

[14] https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/რას-გულისხმობს-ინიციატივა-უზენაესი-სასამართლოს-მოსამართლეების-შერჩევის-შესახებ-/29710710.html

[15] 20.02.2019, Statement by the Political Council, http://41.ge/new/753-politsabchos-ganckhadeba

[16] https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/premier-ministris-gadadgoma/27445412.html

[17] https://imedinews.ge/ge/saqartvelo/98657/irakli-garibashvilma-qartul-otsnebashi-dabrunebis-mizezi-daasakhela