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Parliament Fills Last Vacant Top Court Seat

The Parliament of Georgia on December 29 elected Amiran Dzabunidze, 46, to fill the last vacant seat in the Supreme Court, concluding some two-year-long process of lifetime appointments heavily criticized by the opposition, civil society, and international partners.

The ruling Georgian Dream MPs pushed through Dzabunidze’s candidacy with 79 votes in favor and 10 against, a day after Dzabunidze’s controversial interview, in which he argued in favor of restrictions on freedom of expression to combat “excessive attacks” against the judiciary.

Dzabunidze, previously serving as an acting chair of the Kutaisi Appeals Court, has now become the eleventh top court justice elected by the new Parliament, convened in 2020. GD lawmakers elected four Supreme Court justices on December 1 and six others on July 12.

The GD’s selection of the justices in 2021 faced scathing criticism as the party defied the April 19 EU-brokered deal with the opposition to suspend filling any top court seats until judicial reforms. The selection process came under fire over concerns with its transparency and fairness.

The now culminated process of judicial selections started in May 2019, aimed at increasing number of the Supreme Court judges from eight to 28 after Georgia’s heavily amended Constitution came into force in December 2018. The High Council of Justice (HCoJ), a body overseeing candidates’ selection, fast-tracked the process settling for a relatively tight time span.

The 2016-2020 Parliament confirmed 14 judges out of 20 candidates for the lifetime tenure at the top bench, but then halted the process in January 2020. MP Irakli Kobakhidze back then explained that the ruling party was considering the Venice Commission’s recommendation that no more than half of the Court’s judges should be appointed by the same convocation of the Parliament.

With regards to the remaining three top court justices, judge Ekaterine Gasitashvili was appointed in 2015, while her colleagues Nino Bakakuri and Zurab Dzlierishvili have been serving at the Supreme Court since 2014.

Notably, Gasitashvili and Bakakuri were some of the few judges who distanced themselves from the November 4 statement by the Administrative Committee of the Conference of Judges lashing out at the U.S. and EU Embassies in response to criticism over the recent appointment of two judge-members to the High Council of Justice.

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