The U.S. Embassy submitted a report to the Parliament of Georgia outlining recommendations related to the reform of the judicial system, which is based on the Embassy’s communication with Parliament and other, key parties. The report also relies on the opinions of the Venice Commission, the OSCE/ODIHR, and the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE), as well as other relevant, international bodies.
Read the entire report here.
Assessing Judicial Reform Efforts
In reference to assessing judicial reform efforts, the report emphasized that it must be conducted in an inclusive and participatory manner. They highlighted that this should be done with the support of regional international experts like the OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission, as well as with Georgia’s Summit for Democracies commitments, which must also be fully implemented.
“The assessment should not only evaluate legislative gaps but examine the impact of the implementation of the prior waves of reform to generate additional reform strategies,” it emphasized.
Regarding court decisions, the report denoted that all determinations should be made public except in certain exceptions when an effort should still be made to disseminate redacted versions.
On gender equality, the report noted that while more than 50% of judges in Georgia are women, the “rate of women occupying key roles within the judiciary does not reflect this gender balance.”
It advised that guarantees be introduced to ensure balanced representation for judicial appointments and key leadership positions. Per the recommendation, Parliament and the High Council of Justice, which oversees the judiciary, should guarantee gender balance.
The report urged that jury trials be expanded to allow for their use in high-profile criminal and civil cases, especially in instances of corruption and abuse of power, as well as high-value civil disputes.
“This would allow parties greater authority to select jury trial as a means to resolve matters and increase public trust in the outcome of important cases,” it underscored.
Transparency in Appointing and Selecting Judges
In reference to selection processes, the report emphasized that all candidates should be “strictly screened to ensure qualifications, such as legal education, are met.” They also recommended procedures for background and integrity checks which will consider all possible sources and be published afterward.
To ensure transparency, they highlighted that sufficient notice and publication of results will allow for a “rigorous debate of the candidates.”
High Council of Justice (HCoJ)
On the HCoJ the U.S. Embassy’s report noted that the Council still has to select 5 of its non-judge members, for which the vacancies have been open for almost a year. It urged Parliament to fulfill this obligation transparently and in accordance with Georgian law, and international best practices.
Noting that the HCoJ’s composition is a “controversial topic” it stated that “in order to give a meaningful purpose to the non-judge members of the HCoJ, we recommend reconsidering the allocation of the HCoJ positions, between judge and non-judge members, with the ultimate goal of providing the non-judge members with a meaningful vote…”
Along that line, they suggested that staggered terms of office be instituted for HCoJ members so that the entire Council is not replaced at one time and that members be selected for one term only.
It stressed that Parliament should also reverse its December 2021 amendments to the Organic Law on Common Courts.
Additionally, to avoid a concentration of power among a small group of judges they stated that the law should be amended to “prohibit court chairpersons, deputy chairs of court, and chairpersons of court chambers from service on the HCoJ.”
For judicial discipline, it recommended that all disciplinary decisions require a 2/3 vote from both judge and non-judge members to “limit the opportunity for potential abuse and allegations of using potential disciplinary measures in order to influence judges…”
Overall, it recommended more transparency for the HCoJ to improve public confidence in the body.
The Supreme Court
The report recommended that qualified and experienced judges in the Supreme Court with a fixed term of office be granted lifetime appointments.
For nominating and appointing judges, the report urged that Parliament work across the political spectrum and with civil society, judges, and legal experts, to “draft comprehensive judicial reform, that includes adopting Venice Commission recommendations for the Supreme Court nominations and election by Parliament.”
It emphasized that HCoJ nominations be made with the agreement of 2/3 of both judge and non-judge members. Additionally, per the report, the minimum number of votes by Parliament to appoint justices to the Supreme Court should be increased from a simple majority (76 votes) to 90 votes.
They also advised that the level of age and experience be increased and that Parliament should consider requiring Human Rights experience in candidates.
On Constitutional Court appointments, the report recommended that they be standardized between the Parliament, President, and judicial appointments. They added that amendments should be made to the necessary laws and Rules of Parliament to require candidates to be selected on merit and in a transparent manner.
On Lower Courts, the report stated that the law should be changed to ensure “open voting, substantiation of appointments, and increase the number of votes needed for appointment.”
“Current decisions are formalistic, not individualized, and do not follow the legal framework set out in the Law on Common Courts which lists competency and integrity criteria as the key components to be evaluated,” they emphasized. “Furthermore, the reasons why a candidate is rejected is not included in current substantiation.”
The report underscored that judicial appointments made by the HCoJ should require 2/3 votes by both judge and non-judge members of the Council.
They suggested the possibility of creating short courses for experienced litigators with those who successfully complete the courses, being allowed to participate in competitions for vacant judicial posts.
For the election of Court Chairpersons, the Embassy recommended that practices be brought in line with the recommendations given for the election of HCoJ judge members.
Regarding promotions and transfers, the need was raised to introduce a comprehensive system that would require that all promotions or transfers be based on merit and objectivity.
For random case assignments, the Embassy advised the law be amended to provide “an exhaustive list of exceptional circumstances for not using the existing random case assignment procedures, which will limit interference in the assignment process.”
High School of Justice
The report recommended the law on the High School of Justice be amended to “reduce the control the HCoJ has over the appointment of members to the HSoJ Independent Board.”