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Outspoken Judges File Constitutional Suit over Controversial Courts Law

Five outspoken judges have filed a suit in Georgia’s Constitutional Court to challenge the controversial changes to Common Courts legislation which, among others, introduced punishment for justices over “violations of the principle of political neutrality.”

In the plea, dated April 11, the judges asserted that the newly introduced principle is rather general, especially as there is no definition of the term “political neutrality” in Georgian legislation.

This clause can restrict any form of expression on social media — text, symbols, audio, videos — “be it against the Russian occupation of Ukraine or Georgia and the war, or participation in acts of social solidarity with vulnerable and minority groups,” the justices argued.

The appeal argued that the clause contravenes Article 17 of the Constitution, which protects the freedom of expression. Also, the justices added that it also fails to meet the “quality of law” requirements, necessary for restricting rights.

Also, the judges said Common Courts legislation ensured the political neutrality of justices anyways, by barring them from being members of political parties.

The constitutional suit also contested several clauses of the amendments, including those that empower the High Council of Justice — the body overseeing Georgia’s judiciary — to transfer a judge from one court to another without consent for two years (extendable by two more), and reduce the necessary votes to use disciplinary sanctions against justices from 2/3 of all fifteen Council members to a simple majority.

Among other concerns, the judges argued that the changes allowed HCoJ to initiate transfers based on vaguely-worded “other objective circumstances,” all the while being not obliged to substantiate their decisions.

The said clauses contravene Article 25 of the Constitution, the right to hold public office, the justices asserted.

The judges behind the constitutional suit are Eka Areshidze and Tamar Khazhomia of Tbilisi City Court, Ketevan Meskhishvili of Tbilisi Appeals Court, Madona Maisuradze of Rustavi City Court, and Mamuka Tsiklauri of Telavi Regional Court.

The five were among the 14 judges that had decried the changes when the ruling Georgian Dream party tabled the amendments package in December 2021. In a starkly-worded statement, they had argued that the initiative aimed to “weaken independent judges, intimidate them and forbid them from voicing critical opinions.”

Besides, Areshidze, Khazhomia, Tsiklauri, and Meskhishvili were among the multiple judges who in November 2021 distanced themselves from a 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.

The GD lawmakers pushed through the controversial changes to the courts legislation on December 30, in the same sitting they voted in defiance of local and international criticism to dismantle the State Inspector’s Service, an outspoken independent agency tasked with monitoring personal data protection and probing abuse of power.

The U.S. Embassy said afterward that the ruling party had undermined government accountability and the independence of individual judges by rushing the relevant laws.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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