Georgian rights watchdogs have slammed the nominations of Supreme Court judges, and have called on the Parliament to suspend the appointment process pending fundamental reform of selection procedures.
The ten-member list of nominees was announced on December 24 by the High Council of Justice (HCoJ), the body overseeing the judiciary. Three non-judge members – Anna Dolidze, Nazibrola Janezashvili and Irma Gelashvili voiced objections and did not participate in the voting.
- According to Georgia’s new constitution, the Supreme Court judges are elected by the Parliament for lifetime tenure, upon nomination by the High Council of Justice.
- The constitution defines the minimum number of judges at 28. There are currently only 11 judges in the Court, meaning that there are 17 vacant positions to be filled.
In a joint statement on December 24, nine rights groups said the selection process was “hasty,” and was held without public scrutiny. The candidates were shortlisted behind closed doors and by “a narrow group of judges,” according to the CSOs.
The rights groups claim they represent “a dominant group” of judges, whose reputation “does not withstand criticism.” In particular, the CSOs point at Mikheil Chinchaladze, Giorgi Mikautadze, Dimitri Gvritishvili, Tamar Alania, Merab Gabinashvili and Giorgi Tkavadze.
The watchdogs believe that this was “an arbitrary decision tailored to clannish interests,” – an attempt by “a narrow interest group” to gain “full control” over the judiciary.
“Such informal deals contradict the spirit of law and constitution, even under current shortcomings of the legislation,” reads their statement.
They also stress it was a combination of legal shortcomings and absence of will by the Parliament to implement “fundamental” reforms that has led the judiciary to current “crisis.”
The CSOs urge the Parliament not to approve the candidates, launch discussions on legislative amendments that “will deprive influential judges of the opportunity to make arbitrary decisions,” and suspend the process pending these changes.
Reactions of HCoJ Members
Anna Dolidze, the President-appointed member of the HCoJ, slammed the decision as well, saying the selection process was far from European and democratic standards.
Dolidze added that the HCoJ leadership went on with the nominations in agreement with the authorities. “Most of the people we are dealing with were fulfilling orders of the previous government, and will do so under any government – this is why they are valuable,” she noted.
“This was a final gunshot on the idea of judiciary independence,” she stressed.
Nazibrola Janezashvili, one of the five Parliament-appointed members, said: “this was practically the last chance to reform the judiciary, but we saw very well that the Council does not share the opinions of the Georgian public, as well as those of the non-judge members.”
Judge Dimitri Gvritishvili, one of the HCoJ members and a Supreme Court judge nominee, dismissed the allegations, saying this was “an absolutely groundless smear campaign,” and “a hype induced by biased individuals.”
“We attempted many times to have constructive communication with non-judge members, but this requires mutual willingness; these people have been smearing us on a daily basis by labeling us as clan members, and with that, discrediting the judiciary,” Gvritishvili added.
The High Council of Justice
The High Council of Justice is in charge of overseeing the judiciary with the authority to appoint or dismiss judges, as well as to initiate disciplinary proceedings against judges. The institution consists of 15 members, with eight members elected by the Conference of Judges, five members elected by the Parliament and one member appointed by the President.
Some of the High Council decisions in the last few years on appointing or dismissing judges have repeatedly triggered strong criticism from local civil society organizations.