Parliament Adopts Controversial Changes to Courts Law, with Revisions

Georgian Parliament voted on December 30, with 81 in favor and 7 against, to adopt a slightly amended version of the draft changes of the Law on Common Courts that led to a public outcry and international criticism, for suggesting to sanction judges over their unbalanced, immoderate, or politically biased opinions.

The ruling Georgian Dream lawmakers have partly backtracked on defining new types of disciplinary misconducts and sanctions for justices. While the law still includes a clause introducing “violations of the principle of political neutrality” as misconduct, it no longer has a provision dubbing an expression “in violation of the criterion of balance and moderation” unlawful.

The adopted version also diverges from the initial bill by removing the transfer or demotion of a judge to a different court for up to five years as a potential disciplinary sanction. It nevertheless outlines a notice, reprimand, severe reprimand, dismissal of a judge as basic disciplinary sanctions for violating the principle of political neutrality or for other misconducts. 

Some other provisions that have vexed the public, however, remained in the bill to become the law. Per the changes, an independent inspector’s service will be set up at the High Council of Justice to examine possible transgressions by the judges. It will also reduce the necessary votes for using disciplinary sanctions from 2/3 of all fifteen members of the Council to only a simple majority.

New rules also lift the ban barring the election of the same person to the HCoJ twice in a row, stripping down the restriction that CSOs have previously described as “one of the few positive legislative regulations” aimed at preventing the concentration of powers in the judiciary.

On December 28, fourteen Georgian justices, most of whom have previously slammed the judiciary leadership in November, warned that these changes – as well as now removed provisions – would amount to “an attack against independent and free judges.”

In a lead up to the vote, the CSOs, as well as the opposition, saw the move as enabling the “judicial clan” – an influential group of justices holding sway in the judiciary – to discipline their outspoken colleagues which criticized judicial leadership for accusing the EU and U.S. Embassies of meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

The decision on the adoption of the bill came along with other controversial moves by the Georgian Dream-led Parliament, including votes to abolish the State Inspector’s Service and continuing with lifetime appointments of justices to the Supreme Court despite local and international outcry, completing the process by filling the last vacant seat on December 29.

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