The High Council of Justice has presented judges Tamar Okropiridze, Tea Dzimistarashvili and Nino Sandodze to the Parliament to select for three vacant seats at the Supreme Court of Georgia.
The Council, the body overseeing the Georgian judiciary, made the picks on November 12. Okropiridze is a justice of Tbilisi City Court, while Dzimistarashvili and Sandodze are judges of the Tbilisi Appellate Court.
The nomination follows controversy over the top court selection process in June, when the ruling Georgian Dream party announced it would move on with the Supreme Court appointments despite agreeing in EU-brokered April 19 deal with the opposition to refrain from making new picks under existing legislation.
The Georgian Dream then pushed through in July six out of nine top court nominees for lifetime tenure, sparking widespread criticism, including from the U.S. and the EU. Okropiridze, Sandodze, and Dzimistarashvili were then part of the process, being among multiple justices to compete for the nine vacancies but did not make the final list of nominations in their first attempt.
Assessing the candidate interviews held at the Council, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said in July that “vast discrepancies in the length, form, and tone of monitored candidate interviews cast doubt on the HCJ’s respect for the principle of equal treatment and may have materially damaged some candidates’ prospects for nomination.”
Civil society organizations monitoring the developments have also slammed the process. Vakhushti Menabde, Director Democratic Institutions Support Program at GYLA, told Civil.ge “it is not important” who the HCoJ nominates for the top court.
He said no justice can end up on the list of nominees without being backed by the “clan,” an influential group of justices holding sway over their colleagues. “The system is set up in a way that decisions are made only with personal loyalty.”
“We have no expectations of either substantial changes [in the judiciary], or that the ruling party and the influential group of justices will make a reasonable decision,” he added.
Guram Imnadze, Director of Democracy and Justice Program at the SJC, also argued that the High Council of Justice makes nominations based “more on their loyalty” rather than personal qualifications.
“On multiple occasions, it has been revealed that the Council presents to the Parliament the candidates that are loyal to a certain group, rather than being distinguished with professionalism and integrity,” Imnadze told Civil.ge.
He also noted that the Parliament then elects candidates through “narrow-party interests.” Imnadze asserted that “no selection competition” will result in picking trustworthy Supreme Court judges unless the relevant legislation is amended or the governing Georgian Dream party agrees to elect the justices in consensus with the opposition.
There are two other vacant seats at the top court. The Council nominated justice Genadi Makaridze for one position, while the nomination process has not been finished for the other.
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