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Public Defender of Georgia publishes special report on the process of selection of Supreme Court Judges

By Levan Abramishvili
Wednesday, October 9
A special report on the selection process of the Supreme Court Judges was released by the Georgian Public Defender on October 8.

The Supreme Court of Georgia conducted the process of selection of Supreme Court judicial candidates in the four-month period from May 6 to September 6, 2019. The Public Defender's Office monitored the process within its mandate and included the findings and recommendations in the special report.

“Monitoring showed that the selection of Supreme Court judges in a fair manner and in accordance with high standards was substantially affected by many shortcomings,” reads the report. “The process ongoing in the High Council of Justice failed to convince any objective observer that the most competent and conscientious candidates were submitted to the Parliament of Georgia,” the Office adds.

The deficiencies were numerous and the Ombudsman’s report starts with the most basic one - The High Council of Justice failed to properly check the candidates’ compliance with the legislative requirement, according to which, they should have at least a master's degree or an equivalent academic degree in the field of law.

The Ombudsman has found that at least three candidates do not comply with the abovementioned criteria. These candidates are Prosecutor General Shalva Tadumadze, former chairman of the Constitutional Court Zaza Tavadze and judge of the Tbilisi Court of Appeals Miranda Eremadze.

“Compliance with the aforementioned legislative requirement should have been checked by the High Council of Justice at the initial stage of the process, before registering candidates. However, it has been found out that both the list of 50 candidates and the candidates submitted to the Parliament include persons, master’s degrees of which (in the field of law) are either not properly certified, or raise serious questions,” states the report.

During the selection process of Supreme Court Judges, the disagreement between the two groups of members of the High Council of Justice was evident. The Public Defender's Office was able to identify 10 ballot/evaluation forms characterized by a high degree of coincidence throughout the process, including during the secret ballot and candidate evaluation.

“The agreements between the members of the Council once again highlighted that the internal independence of the judiciary still represents a significant challenge in Georgia. Under these circumstances, the secrecy of ballot and evaluation impedes public oversight over the process, which is of no value and, on the contrary, is harmful,” reads the Ombudsman’s report.

According to the report, Nazi Janezashvili and Ana Dolidze, the non-judge members of the Council were frequently interrupted while asking questions and the judge members interfered with their activities, but the non-judge members were still able to ask the candidates their desired questions.

The report goes into detail on how the High Council of Justice evaluated the candidates after the interviews, stating that only 12 members assessed the applicants.

“There were cases when the difference between the points granted by the 12 evaluators was quite large (from 30 to 57). In addition, with regard to several candidates, the minimal and maximal points were close to each other (from 3 to 10),” notes the Public Defender.

Analysis of the ballot results conducted in order to select 20 out of 50 candidates found that 10 Council members gave 20 specific candidates a high number of votes, no one received an average number of votes, and 18 candidates received the lowest number of votes.

The Ombudsman notes that the above mentioned strategy of the 10 members of the Council to not give an average number of votes to any candidate, as well as the coincidence with the votes of other members of the Council, eliminated the possibility of the candidates to qualify for the next stage.

“Under the mentioned rating system, when points are not substantiated, we cannot say for sure that the higher the points are, the more competent the candidate is, but even under these circumstances, the decision of the 10 members of the Council, who granted high points to a candidate, but did not vote for him/her, or on the contrary, gave low points to a candidate, but voted for him/her, is surprising. The 10 members of the Council made such a decision with regard to 4 candidates,” informs the report.

At the conclusion of the report, the Public Defender proposes that Parliament make legislative amendments to eradicate the High Council in Justice's arbitrariness of decision-making, as well as to establish a high standard for avoiding conflict of interest, transparent voting, substantiating decisions, and an opportunity to appeal the decision.

Last month, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), who has also been monitoring the process published a report, stating that nomination and appointment of Supreme Court Judges are lacking transparency and accountability.