Venice Commission publishes report on appointment of judges to Georgian Supreme Court

Georgian Parliaments Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze asked the Venice Commission to make a report on the selection and appointment of judges for the Georgian Supreme Court.Photo: Venice Commission press office., 16 Apr 2019 - 18:11, Tbilisi,Georgia

The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe has released an evaluation of a bill put forward by ruling Georgian Dream party MPs concerning the long-disputed issue of the lifetime appointment of judges to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

The report was made in an urgent manner by the commission after the appeal of Georgian Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, who is one of the authors of the bill.

Georgia requested the help after the controversial nomination of 10 judges for the Supreme Court by the High Council of Justice, an independent body responsible for the selection and appointments of judges, back in December.

NGOs, two members of the High Council of Justice and several MPs from the ruling party stated that the list included “biased judges.”

Several of the Georgian Dream members quit the party as they had differing views regarding the issue.

This request for an urgent opinion was made as a result of the incomplete composition of the Supreme Court of Georgia, which currently has 11 judges [and will have only eight judges by the beginning of July 2019] and should be composed of 28 judges according to the new constitution of Georgia,” the report by the Venice Commission reads.

Georgian Parliament Speaker says that the report is positive. Photo: Parliament press office. 

The report says that since the new constitution leaves the final decision of the appointment of judges of the Supreme Court to parliament [after the candidates are presented by the High Council of Justice], 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.

The report also says that the High Council of Justice “enjoys fairly low trust by a large segment of society,” and the fact that the candidates for the Supreme Court will be nominated by the body “should be a matter of concern.”

The key recommendations are:

  • A higher age requirement and more emphasis on a candidate’s experience as well as judgment, independence and diversity should be provided in the eligibility criteria.  
  • The requirement for non-judge candidates to have passed the judicial qualification examination should be reconsidered because, as indicated [in the bill], only “specialist of distinguished qualification in the field of law” may be non-judge candidates for the Supreme Court. Persons with such qualifications should not be forced to sit an examination to prove that they are capable of dealing with points of law, which is the essence of the work of a Supreme Court.
  • Conducting secret ballots in the High Judicial Council should be abolished; information regarding the qualifications of candidates should be made public and the procedure should be based on the objective criteria on which each candidate is evaluated, producing a pool of candidates who satisfy these criteria.
  • A member of the High Council of Justice, who is a candidate for judges of the Supreme Court, should be excluded from all procedures pertaining to the selection and nomination of these candidates.
  • See the full report here.

Georgian Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze stated that “as expected” the report is mainly positive regarding the bill.

He said that those recommendations, which are related to the legal issues and do not contradict the state constitution, “will still be definitely taken into account.”

A member of the United National Movement opposition Salome Samadashvili has stated that the report is “obviously negative” and pointed at the sections about the appointment of judges by the current parliament and cited sentences about the High Council of Justice.