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Ombudsperson Calls for Declaring Rule of Judicial Candidates’ Selection Unconstitutional

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Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria urges the Constitutional Court to declare the provisions of the Law on Common Courts, which define the rule of selection of candidates of the Supreme Court judges and under which the process of judicial selections is underway for past several months, unconstitutional.

The amendments made to the Law on Common Courts on May 1, 2019 defined the procedure for selection of Supreme Court judges. The procedure specifies criteria for selecting judicial candidates and outlines the competences of the High Council of Justice (HCoJ) and the Parliament of Georgia in the selection process.

According to the new norms, the High Council of Justice should select candidates based on two criteria of honesty and competence. The process of selection of candidates by HCoJ involves several stages, including accepting applications from candidates, registration of a person as a candidate, identifying a candidate for public interviews, making a list of candidates and submitting it to the Parliament. Candidates move to the next stage of selection through a secret ballot.

Then, at first the Parliament hears individual judicial candidates at a committee sitting and on later stage, votes for each candidate at a plenary session. If approved, the elected candidates will become the Supreme Court judges for lifetime tenure.

Speaking at a news briefing today, Nino Lomjaria said that the constitutional lawsuit filed on November 1 is based on the findings of the Venice Commission and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), as well as the factual circumstances identified as a result of monitoring the selection process.

She also said that the procedure for selecting Supreme Court judicial candidates violates the constitutionally guaranteed rights of a Georgian citizen to hold public office, to have access to a fair trial and the principle of an independent and impartial trial.

“The selection rule fails to exclude the risk of arbitrariness, as under the disputed norm, the secret ballot does not oblige the High Council of Justice to substantiate its decision, namely why it favored one candidate and rejected the other. In the absence of the right to appeal, the Supreme Court judicial candidates are unable to prove in court that their rejection was wrong,” the Ombudsperson said.

Nino Lomjaria explained that certain members of the High Council of Justice acted in a coordinated manner to support the pre-agreed candidates in the process of selection of Supreme Court judicial candidates. Lomjaria also noted that “the evaluations and scores granted when assessing the honesty and competence criteria were not substantiated.”

Public Defender also demands that the Constitutional Court suspend the disputed norms until the case is fully resolved. “It should also be made clear that even if the Constitutional Court suspends the controversial norms before the final decision, this will not stop the process of hearing or voting on the already selected candidates in the Parliament, but it can have an impact on future vacancies, or re-selection of candidates by the Council of Justice in case the already nominated candidates are not approved by the Parliament,” Lomjaria said.

On May 1, the Parliament of Georgia made amendments to the Law on Common Courts, clarifying the selection and nomination procedures. Shortly after the law approval, the High Council of Justice announced a competition for filling 20 vacancies in the Supreme Court.

In total, 139 candidates submitted applications, with 50 candidates becoming shortlisted through secret ballot on June 20. On September 4, following a month-long process of public interviews with candidates, the HCoJ released a list of 20 candidates to be submitted to the Parliament for election.

The Parliament launched interviews with the candidates on September 23 and the process ended on November 8.

The entire process was held amid strong criticism from opposition parties, civil society organizations and non-judge members of the HCoJ. Opponents accused the Georgian Dream government of making a deal with influential judges, questioning the honesty and professionalism of candidates submitted by the HCoJ to the Parliament.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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