The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission on April 28 welcomed the recently adopted changes to Supreme Court justices’ selection process at the High Council of Justice (HCoJ), but highlighted that there are “a number of outstanding recommendations” Georgian authorities should consider.
As per the amendments, members of HCoJ, the body that oversees the judiciary, must adhere to principles of equal treatment of all candidates during the top court nomination process, while their identities and reasoning in voting shall be disclosed publicly. Also, the legislation allows appealing the Council members’ relevant decisions and obliges shortlisted Supreme Court nominees to present their candidacy publicly, in a hearing.
The Venice Commission said these provisions are in line with its previous recommendations, adding that “the level of transparency now proposed together with an appeal process, should be of some help.”
The Commission highlighted other issues that need to be addressed, such as possibly restarting the ongoing competition in the selection procedure, as the initial interviews have already taken place under old rules, while the new laws will apply to later interviews. “This needs to be handled with great care, as it raises a major concern of equality of treatment of candidates,” the opinion stressed.
Also, the Commission recommended that when the HCoJ decisions are appealed, the appointment procedure must stay before a decision is rendered on the matter, while the Council composition should be modified for subsequent decisions.
The urgent opinion was requested on April 8 by former Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze, the day after the European Union’s External Action Service decried the “hastily designed and adopted” amendments. The EU’s foreign policy arm said then that revising the selection process of top court judges in line with the Venice Commission recommendations is “a condition for the disbursement of the second tranche of macro-financial assistance to Georgia.”
Prior to the adoption, Georgian CSOs had slammed the amendments as “completely out of touch with existing reality in the country.”