The Parliament of Georgia has greenlighted amendments to the Law on Common Courts of Georgia in its 3rd hearing, envisaging changes to the initial stage of the highly controversial selection procedure of the Supreme Court judges. The changes set new rules in the process of shortlisting candidates by the High Council of Justice, the chief body overseeing judicial processes in the country, for submission to the Parliament for a final decision.
The decision was adopted with 83 votes against 0 during the final plenary session of the 9th parliamentary convocation. The opposition did not take part in the vote.
The new changes introduce the need to substantiate the decisions by the members of HCoJ and lay down appeal procedures for the candidates through various selection phases.
The ruling Georgian Dream party has been consulting with international partners over the recent amendments and has requested another opinion from the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s (CoE) advisory body for legal affairs, on September 21, following PACE co-rapporteurs’ appeal. However, the Parliament approved amendments without waiting for the respective opinion. The draft law, initiated by ruling party lawmakers Irakli Kobakhidze, Rati Ionatamishvili, and Guram Macharashvili, underwent some changes in the process.
According to the new law, in a phase that follows public hearings of judicial candidates, the HCoJ members must grade the candidates and submit written substantiation for given marks as well as for the assessments of the conscientiousness criterium, and verify the document by signing and writing their names.
The candidates who have received no less than 70% of the competence score and were found to meet the conscientiousness criteria by at least 10 of the HCoJ members, will move to the first voting phase aimed to reduce the number of candidates to the number of available vacant positions, should it become necessary. The Council members have to sign and write their own names on the ballots, and later submit written substantiations for their decisions.
In the final voting, each candidate has to receive the approval of at least 2/3 of the Council. Should HCoJ members change their mind and retract support for a candidate they have backed in the previous voting, they will have to submit a written substantiation for this decision right after the Council meeting.
Each of these three stages, the grading and voting outcomes, together with written substantiations, will be published on the HCoJ website, using special assigned personal numbers to cover the identities of the HCoJ members. Their identities will, however, be disclosed to other HCoJ members as well as to public servants of the authorized HCoJ office. Also, each Council member will be able to present a dissenting opinion after every phase, which will be subsequently sent to the Parliament.
The amendments also introduce appeal procedures for the outcomes of each selection phase in the HCoJ: candidates will be able to challenge the results at the qualification chamber of the Supreme Court. The appeal will be reviewed within 2 weeks and decided in an oral hearing.
Should the qualification chamber revoke the decision, it will be sent back to the HCoJ for a renewed examination – only if the chamber finds that the decision has affected the final outcome. In such cases, the Council has to issue a new decision, which, however, cannot be again appealed.
The controversial selection procedure of the Supreme Court judges was approved by the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority on May 1, 2019, bypassing key recommendations by local and international watchdogs. The controversial process has since ensured the lifetime appointment of 14 Supreme Court judges, filling the biggest number of available seats.
Follow our tag for more of the earlier developments of the Supreme Court reform.
- Courts Reform Moves Ahead after Constitutional Court Split Ruling;
- Public Defender Slams Bill on Selection of Supreme Court Judges;
- CSOs: Draft Amendments to Common Courts Law Insufficient;