The Constitutional Court of Georgia issued a split 4-to-4 decision on September 25, which ruled that the termination of the United National Movement MP Nika Melia’s mandate in 2019 was constitutional.
Melia argued in his constitutional appeal that the Parliament of Georgia should not have terminated his MP mandate based on the first instance court decision, without giving him the possibility to appeal, taking into account that the mandate could not be reinstated even if acquitted by higher instance courts.
The defendant – the Parliament – argued that the entry into force of the Court’s decision should not depend on the exhaustion of appeal mechanisms, noting that considering the lengthy appeal process, “the Court’s ruling may never be executed.” The defendant also stated that delaying the ruling enforcement until the highest instance court issues decision would grant an unfair privilege to the lawmakers as opposed to regular citizens.
Arguments of the Constitutional Court
In its ruling, the Constitutional Court pointed out “the need of lawmakers to be persons who have a good reputation, whose behaviors are not at odds with the status of a member of the highest representative body,” arguing that an MP, found guilty by the court of the first instance, would damage the Parliament’s reputation and legitimacy. The Court argued that if a lawmaker’s mandate were to be retained, but then the MP was found guilty by the Supreme Court, the reputation of the highest legislative body would suffer “irreparable damage.”
The Court compared the termination of an MP mandate to impeachment, describing it as a means to ensure good governance and public trust. The Court concluded that Melia’s mandate was rightfully terminated according to Article 39 (5) of the constitution.
The group of four judges who rejected Melia’s appeal was incidentally the very same ones whose appointment to the bench earlier triggered controversy and allegations of their being beholden to the ruling Georgian Dream party. These are: Merab Turava – the newly-appointed Chairman of the Constitutional Court known for his involvement in cases such as ownership dispute over Rustavi 2 TV Channel; Manana Kobakhidze –former MP from the GD party-list until 2017 and First Vice-Speaker in 2012-16; Eva Gotsiridze, a judge whose appointment in 2017 sparked criticism among the opposition and CSOs due to questions over her pro-government activities as a member of the HCoJ; and Vasil Roinishvili, whose appointment in May this year was strongly criticized by the non-judge member of the HCoJ, the opposition, and the civil society outfits.
The four judges Teimuraz Tugushi, Irine Imerlishvili, Giorgi Kverenchkiladze and Tamaz Tsabutashvili gave a dissenting opinion. These are the same four judges that issued a dissent in a landmark July 30 ruling which quashed the appeal from the Public Defender, who argued that the lack of transparency and arbitrary procedures in a selection process might lead to biased appointments of unqualified judges to the Supreme Court, infringing the right to a fair trial in Georgia.
Levan Bezhashvili, a UNM majoritarian candidate in Gurjaani, Sagarejo, Signagi, Dedoplistskaro constituency, stated the ruling was politically motivated and it had “nothing to do with constitutional law.” Bezhashvili argued the ruling was made due to political pressure, pointing out to the fact that four justices are writing a dissenting opinion to the decision.