On April 15, The Legal Issues Committee of Georgian Parliament held a second hearing of the draft law on the selection and appointment of judges to the Supreme Court of Georgia. The hearing was attended by the members of the Committee and the representatives of the civil society. The majority of the members supported the bill.
Recommendations of The Venice Commission
By Levan Abramishvili
Wednesday, April 17
The Venice Commission previously recommended that the Supreme Court judges be appointed directly by the High Council of Justice (HCoJ). Nevertheless, after the constitutional reform, Supreme Court judges are nominated by the HCoJ and elected for life (until retirement) by a majority of all the Members of Parliament.
The ruling majority was criticized by the opposition for discussing the draft law before the Venice Commission published their opinion.
“According to the new regulations, we couldn’t have had committee meeting during the plenary sessions week, therefore the hearing would have been postponed by another two weeks” – said Anri Okhanashvili, the chairman of the committee, in defense of their decision to hold the hearing before the Venice Commission published their recommendations.
The hearing of the draft law has become urgent, because the Supreme Court of Georgia currently has 11 judges (and will have only eight judges by the beginning of July 2019) and it should be composed of 28 judges according to new Constitution.
“We expect the Venice Commission opinion regarding the bill tomorrow [April 16] to allow us fully reflecting all respective recommendations as for Friday” – Irakli Kobakhidze, the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia, commented about the bill.
On April 16, Venice Commission published their urgent opinion on the selection and appointment of Supreme Court judges. The document consists of 68 articles and gives recommendations to the Government of Georgia on the request of Irakli Kobakhidze.
“Since the new Constitution leaves the final decision of the appointment of judges of the Supreme Court to Parliament, this implies that the present parliamentary majority will be entrusted with the appointment of a practically new Supreme Court, the composition of which will possibly remain the same for the next 20 to 30 years. This is an important and very unusual, if not extraordinary, situation. In most countries, the appointment of judges – especially to a supreme court – is staggered over years, if not decades. This renders the nomination and appointment procedure for these judges in Georgia all the more important and should be considered with great care.” – reads the document.
The Venice Commission lists some key recommendations. First of all, the document says that a higher age requirement should be put in the eligibility criteria, as well as more emphasis on the candidate’s experience and judgment.
Currently, there’s a requirement for non-judge candidates to have passed the judicial qualification examination and the commission thinks that “persons with such qualifications should not be forced to sit an examination to prove that they are capable of dealing with points of law”.
The Commission also recommends that conducting secret ballots in the High Judicial Council should be abolished. The procedure of selection should be based on the objective criteria on which each candidate is evaluated. Also, the candidates should receive scores, which will allow a list of the best candidates to be presented to Parliament.
In answer to The Venice Commission Opinion, Irakli Kobakhidze held a press conference where he talked about some of the recommendations and that most of them would be taken into account. As an example, Kobakhidze said that the exam could be eliminated, even though he and his colleagues don’t quite understand “why someone, who’s interested in the appointing qualified Judges to the Supreme Court, would be afraid of this criteria. But considering the context, I think that the recommendation can be taken into account.”