The High Council of Justice (HCoJ) has wrapped up a month-long process of interviews with 50 candidates of the Supreme Court judges in frames of the competition announced for 20 vacant seats in the country’s highest judicial authority.
The HCoJ will now assess the candidates within two weeks and submit a list of 20 candidates to the Parliament for election. If approved, the elected candidates will be appointed in the Supreme Court for lifetime tenure.
The process of interviews, which was livestreamed by public television’s Facebook page, passed amid strong criticism from civil society organizations and fierce debates between judge and non-judge members of the High Council of Justice. CSOs and non-judge members of HCoJ accused the judge members of “clannish rule” and creating favorable conditions for the desirable candidates.
Speaking at a news briefing on August 16, two non-judge members of the High Council of Justice, Nazi Janezashvili and Anna Dolidze slammed the process of interviews as “false.”
“The process of interviews has confirmed that there is an authoritarian rule in the judiciary, which has nothing to do with democracy,” Nazi Janezashvili said. “Not a single candidate dared to say the truth that the system is ruled by one person and this person is [chairman of the Court of Appeals Mikheil] Chinchaladze, who is supported by Levan Murusidze [judge of the Court of Appeals].
She also noted that interviews with candidates “were not real. It was obvious that some questions and answers were pre-determined.”
Commenting on the process of interviews, Anna Dolidze said that “today, we have façade justice, façade law enforcement bodies, façade democracy, façade governance,” adding that “one stage of the process has been over, but the struggle continues.”
Echoing the assessments of HCoJ’s non-judge members, CSO representatives noted that they will provide a comprehensive assessment of the selection process once the High Council of Justice provides a list of 20 candidates of the Supreme Court judges.
Dimitri Gvritishvili, judge member of the HCoJ does not share the assessments made by the non-judge members and CSOs, however. Gvritishvili told Imedi TV that “the process was handled in an unprecedentedly transparent manner. Any members of the HCoJ had possibility to pose the questions they liked.” He added that Janezashvili and Dolidze asked “provocative questions,” however.
Parliamentary procedures for selection of candidates of Supreme Court judges
The High Council of Justice will separately vote for 20 candidates to be submitted to the Parliament. Each candidate needs support of two thirds of the HCoJ members that will be followed by submitting a 20-member list of candidates to the Georgian Parliament.
Initially, the Legal Issues Committee will hear each separate candidate at its public hearing. Afterwards, the Parliament will vote for each candidate at its plenary session.
A candidate needs the support of the majority of lawmakers to be appointed in the Supreme Court for lifetime tenure.
Candidates of Supreme Court judges
Lawyers with no judicial experience, as well as incumbent judges are among the candidates. Georgia’s Chief Prosecutor Shalva Tadumadze and his first deputy, Mamuka Vasadze also were among the interviewed candidates.
According to media reports, Tadumadze will apparently become the chairman of the Supreme Court.
“I suppose that I have a potential to discuss myself as the chairman of the Supreme Court, if, obviously, HCoJ and the Parliament’s decision coincide with my desires and opinions,” Tadumadze said during the interview on July 23.
The Supreme Court chair’s post remains vacant since August 2018, after former chair, Nino Gvenetadze resigned, citing health-related problems.
The High Council of Justice will nominate a new chairmanship candidate, which will then require endorsement by the Parliament. It will happen after the process of candidates’ selection is over and the judicial vacancies in the Supreme Court are filled.
The process of selection of candidates of the Supreme Court judges started last December, when the HCoJ submitted a ten-member list of nominees to the Parliament, triggering criticism from civil society organizations, parliamentary opposition and part of the ruling party lawmakers, prompting the Parliament to postpone the discussions till its spring session.
On May 1, the Parliament of Georgia made amendments to the Law on Common Courts, clarifying the selection and nomination procedures of the Supreme Court judges.
Shortly after the law approval, the High Council of Justice announced a competition for filling 20 vacancies in the Supreme Court.
A total of 139 candidates submitted applications with 50 candidates shortlisted through secret ballot on June 20.
The Court has 10 judges now, and should be composed of at least 28 judges, according to the new constitution.
The High Council of Justice, the body overseeing the judiciary, is composed of 15 members. The Council includes Chair of the Supreme Court, eight judge members elected by the Conference of Judges, as well as six non-judge members with five elected by the Parliament and one nominated by the President of Georgia.