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NGO, Ombudsman and EU Ambassador Say the Process of Selecting Supreme Court Judge Candidates Should be Suspended

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Friday, November 26
The Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary considers it unjustified for Parliament to start interviewing candidates for the Supreme Court. The statement said that the current rule of selection/ appointment of judges does not ensure that the competition is free from party influence and previous cases of selection show that candidates are not evaluated based on their qualifications and professional good faith.

The next process of electing judges of the Supreme Court has started in the Parliament of Georgia. On November 22, 2021, it became known that the 4 candidates nominated by the High Council of Justice for Parliament will be interviewed on November 25-26.

There are currently 5 vacancies in the Supreme Court and 3 independent competitions are underway, which are yet to be announced in the autumn of 2020. It should be noted that 3 of the candidates nominated by the Council for the Parliament (Nino Sandodze, Tamar Okropiridze, Tea Dzimistarashvili) had already participated in the previous competition (announced by the decree of October 7, 2020), during which they could not advance to the next stage.

The legislation allows that if the Parliament does not appoint all the candidates nominated by the Council as judges, the Council will appoint other persons from the same competition (without re-conducting the interviews, Based on existing evaluations) to select the candidates with the best results within 2 weeks. However, this deadline was explicitly violated by the council, as the decision to transfer these candidates to the next stage was made on November 4 this year, while the 2-week term began on July 12, 2021 (when the parliament did not fully nominate all candidates nominated by the council).

The Coalition notes that in addition to the above-mentioned formal reason, the ongoing interview and evaluation process of the Supreme Court members within the framework of this competition was characterized by an unequivocal crisis of legitimacy and, as in previous years, was flawed. In particular, the assessments of the board members left the impression of inconsistency, unequal attitude towards the candidates and stereotyping.

“Beyond the fundamental criticism of the current composition of the council and the public distrust towards it, it is also problematic that the parliament makes decisions on this issue by a simple majority, at which time a political consensus on the candidates is not mandatory. Therefore, before the emergence of substantial reform of the judiciary and the commitment to make this decision in parliament by political consensus, the Supreme Court will be fully staffed, will not serve the interests of justice and will provide an opportunity to further strengthen political influence in the judiciary.”

Besides Coalition, the Public Defender Nino Lomjari also calls on the Parliament of Georgia to suspend the process of appointing Supreme Court judges until a systematic reform of the judiciary has taken place and a political consensus decision is required.

According to the Ombudsman's statement, the High Council of Justice nominated 4 candidates to the Parliament within the framework of 2 selection competitions launched in October last year and November. The serious shortcomings identified in them, including the fairness of the process and equality between candidates, are described in detail in the third OSCE/ODIHR report.

Statement emphasizes that unfortunately, the number of applicants expressing interest in a vacant Supreme Court judge is declining from year to year, indicating distrust of the selection procedure.

Note that in the 2nd competition, only 10 members of the High Council of Justice - 9 judges and 1 member appointed by the President participated in interviewing and evaluating the candidates, as the terms of all 5 non-judges elected by the parliament had expired and new members have not been elected by the parliament so far.

EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell Also commented, saying that they were invited to observe the interview process on November 25-27, but the embassy refused ‘for several simple reasons, this is part of the process we have been talking about since April’.

“We have urged the country’s leadership to carry out a large-scale judiciary reform first and only afterward select and appoint judges”. According to Hartzell this is not in line with the April 19 agreement. The process is not being carried out in full accordance with the Venice Commission and the advice of ODIHR. “We think the process should be stopped,” Hartzell said.