Parliament Speaker Kakha Kuchava has refused an appeal by U.S. and EU Ambassadors and CoE Office Head to suspend appointments to the Supreme Court and the High Council of Justice (HCoJ), a body that oversees the judiciary, until judicial reforms envisaged in the April 19 agreement are endorsed.
The Georgian legislature is not “entitled” to leave soon to be vacant non-judge HCoJ member seats empty until the deadline of the judiciary reforms in spring 2022, Speaker Kuchava said in a May 23 missive, responding to U.S. and EU Ambassadors Kelly Degnan and Carl Hartzell, respectively, and Council of Europe Office Head Natalia Voutova.
Speaker Kuchava said the Parliament is obligated by law to elect five non-judge HCoJ members this June, though stressing he will ensure in his capacity that they are appointed through “appropriate political involvement.”
Concerning the Supreme Courts’ justices, Speaker Kuchava said the Parliament will also be obligated to approve the judges if the HCoJ chooses to name the candidates. This process would be fully in line with Venice Commission’s “key recommendations,” reflected “completely” in the recently amended court legislation, according to the Parliament Speaker.
The U.S., EU Ambassadors, and the CoE Office Head had stressed in their letter to Speaker Kuchava that the “spirit” of the April 19 agreement would be “preserved” if judiciary reforms preceded any relevant elections. An immediate pause in appointments would show commitment to increasing transparency and public confidence in the judicial system, they added.
They also reminded the legislature speaker that financial aid to Georgia is conditional on the judicial amendments.
The issue came to the forefront after an extraordinary Conference of Judges was slated for May 26 to elect four judge-members of the High Council of Justice, a move that went against the “spirit” of the EU-brokered deal according to a May 20 joint statement by nine key local watchdogs.
The statement called on Georgian lawmakers to adopt legislation suspending any appointments until the reforms are passed. Although Lelo for Georgia’s Ana Natsvlishvili initiated the relevant bill on May 19, ruling party lawmakers have not backed the proposal so far.
Opposition politicians said the Georgian Dream aims to increase its influence in the judiciary before the reforms, through empowering an influential group of justices often referred to as the “clan,” a claim that the ruling party denied.