Public Defender Calls on Parliament to Pause Process of Electing Supreme Court Judges

Another process of electing Supreme Court judges has started in the Parliament of Georgia. The Legal Affairs Committee set up relevant working groups and intends to hear all 4 candidates nominated by the Council of Justice this week, after which the candidates will be presented to the plenary session for election. The Public Defender of Georgia calls on the Parliament of Georgia to pause the ongoing process.

The High Council of Justice nominated 4 candidates to the Parliament of Georgia within the framework of two selection competitions launched in October and November last year. The serious shortcomings identified in this process, including in terms of the fairness of the process and equality between candidates, are described in detail in the OSCE/ODIHR third report.

Unfortunately, the number of applicants expressing interest in becoming Supreme Court judges is declining from year to year, indicating distrust of the selection procedure. Only 51 candidates applied for 9 vacancies, and 17 of them later withdrew their candidacies, while 3 candidates were excluded from the competition by the decision of the Council. Out of a total of 18 candidates registered for 1 vacancy, the High Council of Justice was able to evaluate only 5 of them, as the rest withdrew their candidacies. It should also be noted that a total of 3 candidates submitted additional applications in two competitions, which highlights the inefficiency and faultiness of this mechanism.[1]

We would like to emphasize that only 10 members of the High Council of Justice - 9 judges and 1 member appointed by the President participated in interviewing and evaluating candidates in the second competition, as the tenure of all 5 non-judges elected by the Parliament had expired and no new members have been elected by the Parliament so far.

The Parliament of Georgia elected 14 judges for life for the first time on December 12, 2019, while on July 12, 2021, it appointed 6 additional judges. These decisions, which were quite problematic from the legal point of view, were a major blow to the justice system of Georgia. The Public Defender responded to this issue this year too and once again presented legal reasons indicating why the whole process of selection of Supreme Court judges was problematic. These arguments are still valid today. In particular, the fundamental reform of the High Council of Justice is crucial, and before that, the election of new judges to the Supreme Court is only a step towards strengthening the influential group of judges. The OSCE/ODIHR fourth report on the selection of Supreme Court judges in Georgia is also noteworthy, which describes the serious problems identified on the basis of monitoring and strongly recommends the suspension of the selection process before the implementation of fundamental judicial reforms. The need for fundamental reform and suspension of the selection of judges is also mentioned in the 19 April agreement - "A way ahead for Georgia" - brokered by Georgia's strategic partners.

We still urge the Parliament of Georgia to suspend the ongoing process of electing Supreme Court judges and to start working on the fundamental reform of the High Council of Justice, which is crucial for the proper functioning of the justice system and the exercise of the right to a fair trial in the country.

[1] The opportunity to submit additional applications was created by the law passed by the Parliament on April 1, 2021, about 5 months after the start of the competition. Additional applications for competitions announced in October and November 2020 were submitted from 6 April to 12 April 2021.

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