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ODIHR to observe the selection process of judges to the Supreme Court of Georgia

By Inga Kakulia
Friday, June 7
OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights will observe the selection process of judges in the Supreme Court of Georgia.

According to the Public Defender's Office reports, due to the importance of the selection process and the high interest of the society in this topic, The Public Defender addressed OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human rights and requested for them monitor the process.

"The Parliament of Georgia adopted the law on May 1 of this year to define the procedures for the selection of judges for the Supreme Court. Based on these norms, 20 vacancies of the Supreme Court judge were open for applications from 11th to May 31. 144 candidates submitted their documents. The High Council of Justice should select candidates from the above mentioned individuals and submit the final decision to the Parliament of Georgia. There is no doubt that fair selection of judges of the Supreme Court is of utmost importance and this process will determine the future of our country for decades to come," the Ombudsman's Office reports.

The Constitution of Georgia calls for at least 28 judges in the Supreme Court. 20 positions are currently vacant, and Judges will be appointed for life for the first time in the History of Georgia. The Office of the Public Defender of Georgia also intends to observe the selection process and the practice of basic laws and regulations in the process.

"It should be taken into consideration that per the Public Defender's request the same organization published its legal opinion and recommendations on the issue of selection of the judges for the Supreme Court on April 17,following the draft law initiated in Parliament of Georgia. Monitoring of the selection process of judges will be a logical extension of this process. By May 30 of the current year, OSCE / ODIHR has confirmed its readiness to observe the selection process and its compliance with national legislation as well as international standards and good practices." Says the official announcement by the Public Defender's office.

The ODIHR published the document titled "Opinion on Draft Amendments relating to the appointment of Supreme Court Judges of Georgia."

The document stated that the Draft Amendments could benefit from certain revisions and additions to enhance the openness and transparency of the appointment process and ensure greater compliance with international and regional standards.

"Bearing in mind that on the basis of the Draft Amendments, almost 3/4th of the vacant positions in the Supreme Court may be filled in the coming months, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that the judges are elected following clearly defined and uncontroversial procedure, which would guarantee the appointment of the most qualified and experienced candidates. In this context, the expeditious procedures for judicial appointments envisaged by the Draft Amendments create reasons for concern," stated the opinion documents.

ODIHR also reiterated that the election of Supreme Court judges and Chief Justice by the Parliament and its influence on the final composition of the highest Court carries with it a risk of politicization of the process and could undermine the independence and impartiality of the Supreme Court (and its appointed judges). The document suggests that to mitigate this risk, the Parliament's role in the appointment process should be strictly circumscribed to a supervisory role with respect to compliance of the overall process with the applicable legislation and clearly defined by law, while providing for robust procedures and guarantees to ensure that appointment decision are exclusively taken based on objective criteria.

The amendment made to the appointment procedure caused quite a lot of backlash within the Georgian Parliament as well. The opposition parties were actively trying to oppose these amendments while The NGOs have been actively engaged in the international organizations to evaluate these reforms and provide extensive recommendations. One of the NGO's, EMC, published an official letter representing 39 different non-governmental organizations directed to ODIHR and the Venice Commission, stating the following: "In light of the local context and recent developments in Georgia, the Coalition believes that the adoption of the draft law initiated by the Speaker of the Parliament and nomination of the candidates based on the proposed procedures will have a detrimental impact on the Georgian judiciary. "

Despite the backlash surrounding this project, the first list of the possible candidate for the position of the judge of the Supreme Court has been published. However, the list published today has been followed by critical statements. Part of Opposition and Third Sector Again Indicates that the list is full of "clan" members and speaks of possible risks while the parliamentary majority, states that the process of selection will be objective and transparent.

Among the registered candidates are the General Prosecutor, the Deputy General Prosecutor, as well as the chairperson of the Constitutional Court, the Secretary of the High Council of Justice, former members of the Council, and 10 candidates listed in the Parliament during last year.