Anri Okhanashvili, a ruling Georgian Dream party MP and Chairperson of the Legal Issues Committee, presented an action plan on 3 October for reforming the judiciary. He said the plan was developed by the judicial reforms working group, within the scope of the European Commission’s 12 recommendations for attaining EU candidate status.
According to MP Okhanashvili, the document reflects the proposals submitted by different parties and was prepared by the working group with the “maximum involvement” of relevant groups, including the Public Defender’s Office.
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The ruling party MP explained, that the strategy is based on the 200-page document produced by Georgian Dream for the institutional development of Georgian justice.
“Based on this document, we identified where Georgian justice stands in terms of development [and] what challenges Georgian justice faces,” he emphasized.
According to MP Okhanashvili, the action plan for reforming the judiciary reflects such challenges as:
- Ensuring the optimal number of judges and court officials to fulfill assigned tasks and duties within a reasonable time frame and while maintaining a high quality of work;
- Reducing the flow and number of active cases in Court, for which it is necessary to develop and promote alternative means of dispute resolution, both in regards to arbitration and mediation;
- Improving the quality of justifications that accompany Court decisions and further promoting the professional development of judges and Court officials;
- Improving the mechanism for implementing judgments made in European Court of Human Rights deliberations;
- Strengthening guarantees of social protection of judges, and working on the transparency of justice;
- Further strengthening trust in the Court by increasing public awareness and communication with the public;
- Improving mechanisms for preventing disinformation aimed at discrediting the Court;
- Further strengthening the institution of Jury Court;
- Expanding the practice of using electronic means in Court proceedings;
- Improving the material-technical and technological infrastructure of the judicial system, the introduction of new services; a fully adapted environment for persons with disabilities, and the creation of an appropriate environment taking into account the best interests of the child.
MP Okhanashvili noted during his briefing that the goal of any future legislative changes in the judiciary should not be to obstruct justice and delay the right to a fair trial but to “further improve the judicial system and protect the Court from reputational damage.”
Therefore, according to the MP, other proposals, especially from individual political parties, such as increasing the quorum required for High Council of Justice (HCoJ) decisions (the so-called double 2/3 rule) and changing the procedure for electing the Court Chairpersons “will not be met.” He also said such provisions are not seen in any other “developed democratic state”.
Such proposals, according to MP Okhanashvili, “are inconsistent with the Georgian Constitution, are not based on established international practice, and will eventually lead to the obstruction of justice and the instigation of inappropriate political processes in the Court.”
Reform of the High Council of Justice especially increased participation, transparency, and predictability in appointments to that council, as well as the reform of the prosecution aimed at its increased independence from the political pressures have been some of the key proposals both by civil society groups and opposition parties.
According to United National Movement (UNM) MP Levan Bezhashvili, “Today, the main problem in the Court is the government’s influence on the activities of judges, their appointment, business trips, and promotions.” In that context, the MP emphasized that it is important that the Georgian Dream’s dominance over the HCoJ and the Court, “is somehow balanced by the participation of the opposition and non-governmental organizations.”
Mikheil Daushvili, an MP of ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia party, assessed the ruling party’s proposed changes to be “cosmetic” in nature and underscored that they “cannot lead to the independence and impartiality of the Court.”
Giorgi Vashadze, the leader of Strategy Aghmashenebeli, noted that the proposed plan does not mention “defeating the organized criminal clan” of the judiciary. “Accordingly, all this serve one thing, [for Georgia] not to get EU candidate status,” he said.
“Managing and controlling the judiciary is so important for the Georgian Dream that I don’t expect any significant and serious changes,” said Alexander (Aleko) Elisashvili of the Citizens’ Party.
Note: This article was updated on 4 October at 10:25 to reflect comments from the opposition.
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