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Venice Commission: Pursue Reform Strategy “Without Unjustified Delay”

Council of Europe Venice Commission in its follow-up opinion to previous opinions concerning the Organic Law on Common Courts welcomed some of the amendments to the Organic Law adopted in June 2023 as well as some of the September 2023 draft amendments, but it noted that “important previous recommendations have not yet been addressed.” The Commission invited the authorities to “pursue the reform strategy without unjustified delay.”

The Commission assessed the implementation of its five key recommendations of the March 2023 Opinion. The implementation of the first key recommendation concerning the comprehensive reform of the High Council of Justice (“the HCoJ”) has not been addressed by the Georgian authorities, said the Commission neither by the June 2023 amendments or the September 2023 draft amendments.  The Commission noted that “a comprehensive reform of the HCoJ means addressing effectively the persistent allegations of lack of integrity of the HCoJ; reconsidering its powers, functions, decision-making procedures, and the manner of election of members.” The opinion stressed that “minor or technical amendments to the law would not meet this recommendation” adding that the process of the reform should be thorough and inclusive, involving all the relevant stakeholders.

As for the other key recommendations: the second recommendation circumscribing the wide powers of the HCoJ when transferring or seconding judges, remains outstanding, despite the amendment of the relevant provision and further draft amendments; the third recommendation on revising the procedure for suspension of judges from office, has been followed; the fourth recommendation on restricting the grounds for a judge’s disciplinary liability based on the violation by a judge of the principle of “political neutrality” been followed partly, as per the Commission’s assessment (however, in case of the adoption of the proposals contained in the September 2023 draft amendments, they would be sufficiently addressed); and the fifth recommendation concerning the enhancement of the binding nature of Supreme Court decision, has been followed in part and further amendment could be made to expressly provide that the HCoJ should comply with the decisions of the Supreme Court adopted following an appeal.

The Commission Opinion stated that the June 2023 amendment and September 2023 draft amendments don’t address the remaining recommendations, in particular, stricter age criteria for candidate judges to the Supreme Court; anti-deadlock mechanism in the nomination procedure to the Supreme Court; adding specific requirements (including specialization) in the procedure for the so-called “reallocation” of candidates; reduction of the term of office of the Supreme Court President.

Irakli Kobakhidze, the ruling party chairman, announced on September 18 briefing a set of last-minute measures to meet the EC conditions for Georgia’s candidacy in the European Union. Among the measures were additional draft amendments to the law on common courts, which would also be sent to the Venice Commission for review.

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