Parliament Elects Four Top Court Judges Despite Criticism

The Parliament elected four Supreme Court justices for lifetime tenure on December 1, continuing the top court appointments process despite coming under international and civil society criticism.

Ruling Georgian Dream party lawmakers pushed through the candidatures of Genadi Makaridze, Nino Sandodze, Tamar Okropiridze and Tea Dzimistarashvili – the only nominees for the four vacant seats. Okropiridze was a justice of Tbilisi City Court, while the other three served at the Tbilisi Appellate Court.

Following the appointment, there is one vacancy remaining at Georgia’s top court.

The vote at the Parliament today was marred by opposition protest, as several MPs walked out of the plenary hall. Five opposition lawmakers, Badri Japaridze and Ana Natsvlishvili of Lelo, Giorgi Vashadze and Teona Akubardia of Strategy Aghmashenebeli and Khatuna Samnidze of the Republican party held a joint press briefing, slamming the appointments as illegitimate.

MP Natsvlishvili accused the GD party of wanting to retain the so-called judicial clan in the Georgian judiciary “at all cost, because the court is one of the outposts of their power today.” 

She highlighted that the Parliament should have paused the selection process until the review of earlier judiciary reforms and adopted further changes. MP Natsvlishvili also accused the GD party of delaying discussions about an opposition-tabled bill that aimed to “fight back against unfair courts.” 

“The Georgian Dream lies when they say they have a good [court] system [in place], and that the opposition has not made a single proposal to improve the judiciary,” she highlighted. 

The Georgian lawmakers interviewed the candidates on November 25-26, having moved on with the selection process that was widely criticized, including by the U.S. and EU Embassies as well as the civil society.

On November 26, the U.S. Embassy expressed disappointment over the continued selection, and voiced concern that Parliament had moved on with the appointments before it had “completed an independent assessment of the previous waves of judicial reform,” a provision the ruling Georgian Dream party agreed in the EU-brokered April 19 deal with the opposition.

The EU Embassy, meanwhile, had declined the invitation to observe the candidate interviews. Ambassador Carl Hartzell noted on November 25 the process was not in line with the EU-mediated deal and the conditionality set up for the EU macro-financial assistance. The diplomat also noted shortcomings with regard to Georgia’s “legislation being fully in line with the Venice Commission advice.”

As for the third sector, the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, uniting 40 CSOs, on November 24 called on the Parliament “to refrain from appointing Supreme Court judges until a systemic justice reform takes place and a political consensus for deciding such issues becomes mandatory.”

The watchdogs also highlighted that interviews and evaluation of the candidates at the High Council of Justice, the body overseeing the judiciary and which nominated the candidates, were flawed and “clearly lacked legitimacy.”

Earlier, in July 2021, the ruling Georgian Dream lawmakers appointed six Supreme Court judges, drawing widespread criticism.

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