Candidate for the last vacant lifetime Supreme Court seat, Amiran Dzabunidze argued during his interview at the Parliament on December 28 that Georgia could restrict freedom of expression to combat “excessive attacks” against the judiciary.
Responding to questions by ruling Georgian Dream party lawmaker Aluda Gudushauri, the judge claimed there is an ongoing, “unacceptable” negative campaign mounted against the judiciary in Georgia. He argued that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights would allow restricting such free expression “if it is made in connection with the Court.”
The top court candidate also claimed that ongoing court cases should not be discussed in the media so that the opinion of the public is not formed in advance, which would “influence the judge and the case they are hearing.”
In the lengthy interview, judge Dzabunidze also cited the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct in arguing that justices “should not voice their position over events that are going on in the country, in the society.”
Opposition For Georgia party MP Mikheil Daushvili later grilled the Supreme Court judge candidate over the comment, asking him about his views about the controversial November 4 statement by the Administrative Committee of the Conference of Judges accusing the EU and U.S. Embassies of meddling in the country’s internal affairs, as well as subsequent remarks by over a dozen justices distancing themselves from their colleagues.
Judge Dzabunidze said that while he is neither a member of the Committee, and nor one of the signatories of the November statement, he shares the overall sentiment of the missive. He defended the controversial statement by arguing it only laid out “legal opinion” and “explained what is written in the law.”
Speaking about his outspoken colleagues, however, he argued some of their statements were not balanced and moderate. However, he said he would need to further read and analyze the remarks to be sure if his colleagues had violated the Bangalore Principles.
The top court candidate’s comments on the judges having to refrain from voicing their opinions publicly come as ruling Georgian Dream is fast-tracking a controversial bill that would make justices susceptible to disciplinary sanctions if they voice unbalanced, immoderate or politically biased opinions.
The Bangalore Principles stipulate that “impartiality is essential to the proper discharge of the judicial office,” adding that judges should ensure that their conduct, both in and out of court, “enhances the confidence of the public, the
legal profession and litigants in the impartiality of the judge and of the judiciary.”
Meanwhile, the European Convention says the exercise of freedom of expression could be subject to restrictions among others “for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
Dzabunidze, 46, currently is an acting chair of the Kutaisi Appeals Court. Previously in 2019, he made the shortlist of 50 justices in the Supreme Court selection process, but the HCoJ did not nominate him then. At the parliamentary hearing he clarified, he had actually withdrawn his candidacy, because he did not think he was ready for “public speaking.”
The judge graduated from now-defunct private Tbilisi Business and Socio-Economic Management University in 1997 with a degree – some in the parliament have found odd – in “jurisprudence-management.” The university failed to be accredited around 2005, per Dzabunidze’s own account.
He has worked both in the public and private sector before assuming his first judicial position in 2011 at Mtskheta District Court. In 2013-2015 he was a judge and chairman of the Khelvachauri District Court in Adjara. In 2015 he was appointed as justice at Tbilisi Appellate Court.
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