Political battling sacrifices independence of appointments to Supreme Court of Georgia – ODIHR report
By Levan Abramishvili
Friday, January 10
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) published its second monitoring report on the appointment of the Supreme Court Judges in Georgia on January 9. The report calls the legal reforms regulating the appointment of judges an important step towards improving the independence of the judiciary, but states that they do not guarantee an impartial process based on clearly defined and objective criteria without the influence of partisan politics.
Because the final plenary vote on the judicial appointments took place in the midst of a political crisis, an opposition boycott, and widespread calls for an adjournment, the report states that the decision to proceed in the current political environment further calls into question the sincerity of the authorities’ stated aim to have an open, transparent process that garners wide political support and builds public confidence in the judiciary.
ODIHR Director Ingibjoerg Solrun Gisladottir expressed hope that the Office will have the chance to follow up with the Georgian authorities in the near future.
“We were asked to undertake an independent assessment of the judicial appointments process in Georgia at a critical period in the country’s political development,” she said.
“We identified numerous shortcomings on which I hope to be following up with the Georgian authorities in the near future. With our recommendations, we aim to contribute to improvements to the legal framework for judicial appointments, and above all the need for any decisions on the system to be taken in an atmosphere of collegiality and dialogue,” ODIHR Director added.
The ODIHR’s monitoring team went on to observe the hearings of the 20 High Council of Justice (HCJ) nominees, the committee vote, and the final plenary vote following the completion of the nomination process before the HCJ and the finalization of the first report on the appointment process.
Despite some positive aspects, their overall assessment found that neither the HCJ nor the parliament took sufficient measures to ensure objectivity, fairness, or consistency during the selection process.
On the positive side, the report states that the hearings before the HCJ and parliament were generally open and transparent, and enabled public scrutiny of the candidates and the overall process. Parliament also invited members of key organizations involved, including the office of the ombudsman, civil society, the legal community and academia, all of whom contributed positively to the quality and transparency of the hearings, according to the report.
Nevertheless, the fact that parliament played a decisive role in judicial appointments and also that the procedure was not guarded against partisan politics was at odds with international good practice, states the ODIHR report. The monitors noted that the hearings were used as a political platform by MPs from all sides of the political spectrum, and the interviews did not calm widespread concerns about the adequacy of many of the candidates.
The work of the monitoring team started in June 2019 following a request from the Public Defender of Georgia and included observation of the interviews of 49 candidates before the HCJ and 20 nominees in the Legal Issues Committee of the parliament. They also closely monitored the final voting sessions in the parliament in December 2019.
Following the constitutional amendments, a minimum number of judges at the Supreme Court increased from 16 to 28, at the same time, 10-year appointments were changed to lifetime tenures.
The High Council of Justice was given the authority to nominate candidates for parliamentary appointment. After the selection process, the HCJ provided a list of 20 candidates to the Parliament of Georgia for approval, out of which, 14 candidates were appointed to the Supreme Court for a lifetime against repeated recommendations from international partners.
Aside from ODIHR, the co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, independent experts and non-governmental organizations have all found numerous flaws in the selection process of the Supreme Court Judges, including the lack of transparency and accountability.
The OSCE ODIHR provides support, assistance, and expertise to participating States and civil society to promote democracy, rule of law, human rights and tolerance and non-discrimination.