Criticizing existing rules for judicial appointments as “unfair, nontransparent and unconstitutional”, a group of legal advocacy, watchdog and human rights organizations have called on the High Council of Justice (HCoJ) to suspend ongoing process of selecting and appointing new judges.
Coalition for Independent and Transparent Judiciary, a group uniting dozens of non-governmental organizations, said a complaint will be filed with the Constitutional Court claiming that the current rule of selecting and appointing judges is in conflict with the constitution. The coalition argues that existing rule, according to which decisions on judicial appointments, which is made by HCoJ members through secret ballot, does not require from this body to provide any justification for its decision, and judicial candidates have no possibility to appeal decision to court.
The issue of judicial appointments has become contentious especially after HCoJ’s highly controversial decision to re-appoint Girgvliani case judge Levan Murusidze in late December. The criticism of HCoJ further intensified after chairman of Tbilisi City Court, Mamuka Akhvlediani, alleged earlier this month that answers to judge certification exams were leaked from the HCoJ to at least one of the candidates. Akhvlediani says that after voicing these allegations the HCoJ launched disciplinary proceedings against him.
Newly appointed or re-appointed judges will serve before retirement following a three-year probationary period, according to current rules.
Coalition for Independent and Transparent Judiciary has also launched a petition, which calls for suspending the process, saying HCoJ’s decisions on judicial appointments, as well as on disciplinary proceedings, “demonstrate the fact that they are not made on the basis of objective factors and criteria.”
“On the contrary, these decisions are governed by interests and agreements made in conspiracy among different power groups,” reads the petition. “The current crisis, unhealthy influences on judges and attempts of specific groups to gain control over them, is supported by flawed legislation. As a result of this process: the High Council of Justice appoints and rejects judicial candidates without providing any justification; the Council avoids consideration of minimal selection criteria established in the legislation and does not ensure fairness of the process, which should aim to select candidates based on merit; the decisions to appoint or reject a judicial candidate cannot be appealed.”
President Giorgi Margvelashvili also raised this issue in his annual state of the nation address in the Parliament on February 3 and called on the lawmakers to consider reforming of the HCoJ by making it possible to appeal Council’s decisions on judicial appointments to the Supreme Court; distributing nine seats, allocated for judges in the HCoJ, evenly between representatives of all three levels of courts (City Courts; Appeals Courts and Supreme Court); strengthening of the role of a legal consultative council at the Supreme Court, including in respect of HCoJ’s decision-making process over appointment of new judges.