The 30th conference of judges elected two judge-members for four-year terms to the High Council of Justice, the body overseeing the judiciary in Georgia, after previous holders of the seats resigned before their terms were up.
Tea Leonidze, appointed in October 2020, resigned three years early, while Tamar Oniani, appointed in March 2018, resigned some four months before her term had ended. They did not comment publicly on their reasonings for their decisions. The HCoJ announced their resignation only after the replacements had already been appointed.
The conference, coming a day after the bitterly-contested October 30 local runoffs, was attended by 266 justices, who elected Paata Silagadze and Giorgi Goginashvili to the posts. Both are judges of the Investigative Panel of the Tbilisi Court of Appeals.
Silagadze was previously nominated for a position at the Supreme Court but was voted down by Parliament in 2019. He was named again as a top court candidate shortly after, but the Parliament halted the appointments in early 2020. According to media reports, Silagadze was the justice who found inadmissible an appeal on the pre-trial detention of suspects in the controversial Cartographers’ Case.
Goginashvili, before his tenure in the appellate court, was the Tbilisi City Court judge who ordered pre-trial detention for ex-mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava in 2014.
The conference came amid criticism from the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, uniting about 40 CSOs, which urged the judges on October 29 to refrain from the vote until the rules on the composition of the Council are amended for electing the judge-members “in a transparent and fair environment.”
The Coalition also raised doubts that the “influential group” of judges were trying to “consolidate power” in the HCoJ while the public attention was diverted from the issues in the judiciary to the “severe political crisis.”
The CSOs also pointed out that the High Council of Justice “for years, along with the government, has become one of the main actors undermining justice,” and allows the “group of influential justices to maintain its power” over the judiciary.
The Coalition highlighted that the announcement for electing the two judge-members did not clarify why the posts would be vacant eiter, as all nine positions had been previously filled.
The third sector was also concerned that at the same time, seats for five of the six non-judge members, to be elected by the Parliament, have remained vacant for about five months after the previous holders concluded their terms. The Coalition pointed accusatory fingers at the Georgian Dream, arguing the party has refused to appoint new non-judge members based on a consensus with the parliamentary opposition.
The local CSOs, as well as U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan and EU Ambassador Carl Hartzell had earlier in May called for an immediate pause in any judicial appointments, until judiciary reforms envisaged in the EU-brokered April 19 deal were adopted.
But the appeal went unheeded as GD lawmakers argued the Parliament was not entitled to halt the elections to the HCoJ seats until spring 2022, the deadline for the said judicial reforms. Subsequently, four judge-members were elected to the HCoJ on May 26, amid widespread criticism. The GD quit the EU-mediated deal in July.
About the HCoJ
The Council consists of 15 members, including the Chairperson elected out of the judge-members for a four-year term. There are nine judge-members overall, including the Supreme Court Chair, appointed by the Conference of Judges. Meanwhile of the six non-judge members, five are elected by the Parliament, and one is named by the President.
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