The Parliament of Georgia on April 1 unanimously passed amendments to the Law on Common Courts, encompassing, among others, changes to the selection procedure of Supreme Court Justice candidates by the High Council of Justice (HCoJ). The changes came as major opposition parties – that could not strike EU-mediated deal with the governing Georgian Dream party – continue parliamentary boycott.
The CSO Coalition for Independent and Transparent Judiciary slammed the proposed changes earlier as “fragmented” and “completely out of touch with existing reality in the country.”
According to the freshly-adopted bill, all Supreme Court Justice candidates shall present their candidacy publicly on an individual basis, with the members of HCOJ – the body overseeing the judiciary in Georgia – “adhering to the principle of equal treatment of all candidates.”
The identity of the HCoJ member, and their evaluation of a Supreme Court Justice candidate based on “competence” and “good faith” criteria, shall be made public on the Council’s website.
Failure of an HCoJ member to score all candidates, or not providing a mandatory justification statement of all evaluations, shall result in the annulment of all other assessments. If the justification for a given evaluation of a candidate appears flawed, the Council’s apparatus will give the HCoJ member two working days to rectify shortcomings.
The new bill also amends shortlisting the candidates for the final selection stage. The final list shall be compiled through the cumulative score of each candidate based on the competence and good faith criteria, as opposed to voting by HCoJ members. At least ten HCoJ members, however, must concur that the candidate meets the good faith criterion.
The passed amendments also envisage changing the voting procedure on the final list of candidates. Voting on the candidates, ahead of presenting them to the Parliament, shall be ordered based on who scored highest on the competence criterion. Those garnering the support of two thirds of all HCoJ members shall then be presented to Parliament as candidates.
After the voting procedure, all HCoJ members must submit written justifications of their voting decisions to the Council’s Secretary. The decisions will then become public along with the final voting results, displaying which HCoJ member supported which candidate and why on the Council’s website.
The final decision regarding the selection of Supreme Court Justice candidates by the HCoJ can be annulled by the Qualification Chamber of the Supreme Court. After a renewed HCoJ decision is resubmitted, it can be appealed in the Qualification Chamber only once.
The new amendments were included, among others, in the EU-proposed solution document to end Georgia’s political crisis. But the Georgian Dream and opposition leaders did not sign the document. After negotiations broke down, GD Chairperson Irakli Kobakhidze vowed to still pass the changes, along with a number of electoral reforms.
Prior to the failure of negotiations, however, some of the boycotting opposition parties spoke of replacing the High Council of Justice, “an institution completely devoid of [public] trust,” as the first necessary step in judiciary reform.