The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said in its fourth report on the Nomination and the Appointment of Supreme Court Judges in Georgia that the procedure of appointment of six top court justices by the Parliament lacked adequate safeguards, negatively affecting the integrity of the overall process.
The report, released on August 23, said “the shortcomings in the legal framework and the parliamentary appointment process damaged the credibility and representativeness of the Supreme Court judge selection, leading to public criticism on both substantive and procedural grounds.”
It said “overall the proceedings were marred by the lack of equal conditions and deficiencies in the process that ultimately undermined the credibility of the appointments as truly merit-based in line with international standards.”
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The report said the candidate hearings before the High Council of Justice, the body overseeing judiciary in Georgia that nominates candidates to the Parliament, “although highly transparent, were marred by variations in conditions, lapses in decorum, internal divisions on the HCJ, and serious conflict of interest issues.”
It added that the parliamentary appointment stage, while providing opportunities for public scrutiny of the process and the nominees, “did not adequately guarantee that the final selections were made on objective, merit-based criteria.”
The document stated that the applicable law continues to lack safeguards to prevent the politicization of Supreme Court appointments by giving parliament full discretion to appoint or reject any nominee without substantive justification and without adhering to any established criteria, further threatening judicial independence and impartiality in violation of international standards.
“The lack of transparency in the final appointment decisions raises concerns about whether the most meritorious candidates were selected for the country’s highest court, putting the independence of the judiciary at further risk,” it highlighted.
Referring to the candidate hearings at the Parliamentary Legal Committee, the report said they were generally orderly and mostly consistent, however, were marred by poor attendance of Committee members and political overtones that undermined the perception of an objective and merit-based appointment process.
The document noted that the Legal Committee chairperson although generally maintained neutrality in accordance with the parliamentary Rules of Procedure, “at times even he made statements or had exchanges that were partisan in nature.”
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It also said the Committee, in its Conclusion recommending the six candidates, did not provide any substantive justification for its selection, limiting transparency and raising concerns about whether the proposals were genuinely based on the nominees’ suitability for the highest court.
The document highlighted the fact that two of the three rejected candidates by the Committee, the only two women, had been ranked higher by the HCoJ than several of the recommended candidates without committee’s reasoning provided for these deviations, further brought into question the merit-based selection.
“Although the law does not explicitly require a substantive reasoning on each candidates’ merits, the lack of a Conclusion that – to the highest extent possible – made such assessment, limited parliament’s ability to vote on the candidates on the basis of their professional merits rather than political preferences.”
The document said the plenary voting resulted in the appointment of the Committee’s six recommended candidates by a largely homogenous voting bloc. It noted there was a similarity in the voting patterns of the Georgian Dream MPs, which suggested coordination along party lines.
Finally, the report recommended the Parliament and the HCoJ to immediately suspend proceedings to fill the five remaining vacancies on the Supreme Court. And recommended the reform of the HCoJ and its composition “to bolster public trust in its independence and integrity.”