The Public Defender’s Office of Georgia released a statement on 7 September, criticizing the draft bill under Parliament’s review, which would temporarily change the procedure for nominating the Public Defender. (Update: the Parliament passed the bill without major changes on 9 September).
The mandate of the current Public Defender expires on December 8, 2022. The “Georgian Dream” said earlier, they would not nominate their own candidate, but let representatives of civil society decide. This bill is purporting to legally implement the promise. However, the Public Defender’s Office contests the matter both on process, and on substance.
When talking about procedure, the Public Defender’s office criticized the bill passing through a rushed procedure, as well as with the ruling party’s explanation that this serves to fulfil the European Commission’s recommendation. Pointing to the text of that recommendation, that the process of nominating a new Public Defender and that the process be transparent, the Office remarked that “unfortunately, the text of the draft law and the time of the committee hearing were not known to stakeholders in due time”, undermining inclusive process.
Regarding the content of the draft law, the Public Defender noted that while the draft refers to a number of international standards, it fails to create detailed legal guarantees for the procedure and rules for selecting the Public Defender. Two key problems are defined: the provisions are temporary, and the Parliament Chairperson is having excessive discretionary powers.
Regarding the temporary nature of the provisions – the rules described in the bill will apply only during this particular round of selection, the Public Defender’s Office says that international standards “indicate the need for clear definition of the rules of selection at the legislative level.”
The Parliament Chairperson, says the document, will have the right to define the procedures of selection by decree, and differently from the provisions currently contained in the law. The rule by decree undermines the principles of transparent and participatory process, and gives one official excessive discretionary power, says the Public Defenders’ conclusion. At the same time, temporarily defining the selection procedures differently; through adopting changes to the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament, in difference from what is foreseen by the Law on Public Defender is questionable “from the point of view of the rule of law, as well as of the legislative technique,” reads the statement.
The Public Defender’s Office expressed hope that the Parliament of Georgia will take its opinion into consideration while finalizing the draft, and that “an impartial, objective and highly qualified candidate for the Public Defender will be selected”.
Parliament Chairperson Responds
On 8 September ruling Georgian Dream party MP and the Chairperson of the Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, addressed the Public Defender’s statement by dubbing it “a direct attack on the Parliament” and “a signal to the parts of the radical opposition” not to endorse the bill. Speaker Papuashvili said that the Public Defender’s statement came as a surprise, and “played a very bad role” in overcoming political polarization.