The High Council of Justice will hold its first meeting with its renewed composition on July 3. On June 21, the term of 8 members of the HCOJ expired.
To hold the vacant positions the parliament of Georgia selected 4 non-judge members, from among the 33 candidates that participated in the competition. Unfortunately the legislation did not ensure that the procedures for hearing and evaluating the candidates were prescribed in the parliament’s statute. The initiative of the Legal Affairs Committee to allow each candidate to make a five minute presentation could have been assessed positively, if it were not for the formalistic nature of the process. Despite high public interest, members of the Committee and the public present at the chamber did not have a chance to address the candidates with specific questions.
Finally the Parliament appointed Nazibrola Janezashvili, Irma Gelashvili, Levan Gzirishvili and Zaza Kharebava in a secret vote. Importantly, the positions of most of these appointees regarding the ongoing and needed reforms in the judiciary or the recent developments remain unknown. It is obscure to the public exactly why the majority of MPs supported some of the appointed candidates.
As for the judge-members of the HCOJ, on June 24 extraordinary conference of judges the judges present supported the candidacies of Irakli Shengelia, Irakli Bondarenko, Dimitri Gvritishvili and Vasil Mshvenieradze. According to the agenda, of the four vacancies, on two positions persons who were entitled to hold the positions of court chair, first deputy or deputy chair positions or the positions of court collegium or chamber chairs. For the remaining two positions, judges who do not hold administrative positions were voted. Although Irakli Bondarenko and Vasil Mshvenieradze do not currently hold any managerial position, Irakli Bondarenko was the chair of Sighnaghi Regional Court in 2012 -2017 and Vasil Mshvenieradze was the chair of Mtskheta Regional Court in 2012- 2016. Our observation of the judicial system suggests that the court chairs are among the most influential groups among the judges. Additionally, it’s worth highlighting that none of the four judges elected by the conference are women.
The Coalition has called on the conference of judges on numerous occasions to allow the nominated candidates an opportunity to present their views on the judiciary’s existing situation, accomplishments and challenges and also called for asking questions to the candidates. Unfortunately, as before, this call was not heeded by the members of the High Council of Justice for this conference either. During the conference of judges, neither did the candidates present their views, nor were other judges present allowed to address them with questions.
Upon the conclusion of the conference of judges, the comments made to the press by the newly appointed judge members of the HCOJ showed that they consider following the course of the previous HCOJ and maintaining their achievements as the main priority, rather than identification and addressing the existing challenges.
Despite our skepticism caused by the process of populating the new HCOJ and the opinions publicly voiced by the majority of the newly appointed members, we stand ready to cooperate and offer the HCOJ a meeting to present once again the main problems in the judiciary the member organizations of the Coalition have identified in the course of our work, as well as our views and recommendations regarding the needed reforms.
We call on the new HCOJ to direct its activities towards these main directions:
- Substantive reform of the judiciary: interim rules for case distribution; setting criteria and rules for appointing court chairs; full transition to point based assessment of judicial candidates and abolition of secret ballot; improvement of judicial discipline legislation so as to ensure predictability and due transparency; further develop the legislation regulating the work of the High Council of Justice so as to ensure foreseeability and substantiation, etc.
- Timely and due implementation of the positive changes brought about by the so called “third wave” of reforms;
- Implementation of the judicial system strategy and action plan adopted in May, 2017.
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