The co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of Georgia have welcomed steps to make the process of selecting Supreme Court judges more transparent, but have expressed serious concern at the manner in which the High Council of Justice prepared the list of candidates recently sent to parliament.
Ending a visit to Tbilisi, Titus Corlăţean (Romania, SOC) and Claude Kern (France, ALDE) said shortcomings in the process – already succinctly outlined by Georgia’s Public Defender, the OSCE/ODIHR and civil society organisations – included a lack of clear and uniform selection criteria, excessive discretion by High Council of Justice members in who is selected, and a failure to provide reasoned decisions for both the establishment of the shortlist and the final selection of candidates. The rapporteurs noted that questions have been raised about the qualifications of some candidates selected by the High Council of Justice, as well as concerns relating to allegations of clear conflicts of interest.
“All these shortcomings could have been avoided if the authorities had fully implemented the recommendations of the Venice Commission, contained in its urgent opinion on the selection and appointment of Supreme Court judges, in particular with regard to secret voting, uniform criteria and reasoned decisions. We therefore expect that these recommendations will be promptly adopted and implemented for all appointment and career-related decisions by the High Council of Justice,” said the two co-rapporteurs.
They added: “The selection process has moved to parliament, which now has a unique opportunity – and responsibility – to rectify these shortcomings. The parliament should hold open and transparent interviews with the candidates, based on uniform criteria, and come to a well-reasoned decision. In addition, given the questions that have been raised over the quality of the candidate list, it is important that parliament only appoints the minimum number of judges needed to ensure the proper functioning of the Supreme Court. The remaining positions should be filled on the basis of a new list of candidates, properly established by the High Council of Justice and preferably after the 2020 parliamentary elections, in line with Venice Commission recommendations.”
Turning to ongoing reform of the judiciary, the co-rapporteurs welcomed the agreement reached in the Working Group established to draft the fourth wave of judicial reforms, and expressed their hope that the reforms agreed in the Working Group would now be promptly adopted by the parliament.
The rapporteurs reiterated their satisfaction at the introduction of a fully proportional electoral system for the 2020 legislative elections, and welcomed the work begun to amend electoral law in line with recommendations from recent Assembly and OSCE/ODIHR observer missions: “We realise that some of the issues that these amendments intend to address, such as the issue of hate speech, for example, are both sensitive and complex. We therefore recommend that the authorities request an opinion from the Venice Commission on the amendments to the Electoral Code before they are adopted by the Georgian parliament.” They also reiterated their call for any electoral violations reported during the Presidential elections, including allegations of violence and intimidation, to be fully and transparently investigated to avoid any perception of impunity for such acts.
During the visit the co-rapporteurs also discussed the welcome progress made with regard to the strengthening of parliamentary oversight. They expressed their confidence that this would continue unabated, and would be matched by a change in approach on the part of all other stakeholders. They also discussed some of Georgia’s other outstanding commitments that are of key importance in the framework of the Assembly’s monitoring procedure.
During their visit, the co-rapporteurs were again confronted by ever-increasing “borderisation”, far beyond the administrative boundary lines, and creeping annexation of the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by the Russian Federation. “These actions destabilise the region and inflict an unacceptable human cost on both sides of the lines. We condemn this ongoing ‘borderisation’ and creeping annexation in the strongest possible terms and reiterate the Assembly’s full support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders.”