On Wednesday, the Parliament of Georgia appointed four Supreme Court judges for a life-long term. Such appointments, made before the existing shortcomings in the nomination process were addressed, are not in line with the recommendations of the OSCE/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.
These latest appointments contradict the commitment to ambitious judicial reform made by Georgia’s leaders in the political agreement of 19 April this year, and restated on 28 July. This included addressing issues in the Supreme Court nomination process before proceeding with appointments of the judges. These actions risks further undermining judicial independence and public trust in the Georgian justice system.
The European Union reiterates its calls on the Georgian authorities to strengthen the independence, accountability, and quality of the judicial system, including of the High Council of Justice, through a broad, inclusive and cross party reform process. The European Union reminds that, while it remains fully committed to support Georgia’s reforms in line with the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, the EU’s assistance to Georgia remains conditional on progress on key reforms, including on judiciary.
Statement by the EU Spokesperson
The U.S. Embassy is disappointed that, once again, Parliament is moving forward with Supreme Court appointments before it has completed an independent assessment of the previous waves of judicial reform, as Parliament’s leaders agreed to do. We are also concerned that judicial appointments are proceeding without the participation of non-judge members of the High Council of Justice. While the High Council and Parliament have rushed through appointment of judges over the past year, there has been no action on non-judge appointments despite the positions being vacant for months. The people of Georgia, through the non-judge High Council members, are supposed to have a voice in the selection of these influential and important judges, who are being appointed to lifetime positions on the Supreme Court. The exclusion of independent voices from this process adds to the impression that Supreme Court judicial appointments are being made without meaningful transparency, accountability, or impartiality.
Before any further Supreme Court judges are appointed, we strongly encourage Parliament to prioritize the appointment of impartial, independent, non-judge members to the High Council of Justice, and complete an independent assessment of the previous waves of reform by Spring 2022. Important work has been done since independence to strengthen Georgia’s judicial branch, with the assistance of the United States and others. Georgia’s closest partners and supporters, as well as Georgia’s political leaders, are united in agreeing that judicial reform needs to continue. The goal now must be to build an impartial, transparent, merit-based judicial system that the people of Georgia can have full confidence in and that allows the full participation of the many qualified, ethical judges and lawyers who work with integrity to promote the rule of law.
US Embassy in Tbilisi
Parliament’s July 12 decision to approve six Supreme Court judicial nominations, despite an explicit agreement by Georgia’s political leaders in the April 19 Agreement to “refrain from making appointments to the Supreme Court under existing rules”, is extremely disappointing. Unfortunately, this nomination and appointment process, and the failure to undertake inclusive, comprehensive judicial reform, fell short of the commitment Georgia’s leaders, including the ruling party, made to implement the April 19 Agreement in good faith.
The parties agreed to conduct ambitious judicial reform through a broad, transparent process that includes legal experts, civil society, and opposition parties. Unilateral legislative changes, including those adopted against the advice of international partners while the April 19 Agreement was being negotiated, are inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the Agreement. In particular, the early April amendments to the Organic Law on Common Courts failed to fully address Venice Commission recommendations, including a key recommendation related to staggering judicial appointments.
The failure to pause the appointment process until after comprehensive judicial reform could take place has real consequences. Legal experts and civil society organizations have highlighted that Parliament’s flawed process did not advance the most qualified nominees, resulting in less-qualified judges receiving lifetime appointments on the court. As a July 9 report by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) found, this nomination process, “took place in an environment where there is a lack of public trust in the independence of the judiciary,” and “applications, background checks, and interviews established by the High Council of Justice for these nominations fell short of international standards.” Given this context, it was imperative that Parliament pause the appointment process to allow for inclusive, comprehensive reform reflecting the input of legal experts, civil society, and opposition. Parliament had the authority to do so and a pause would not have unduly burdened the judiciary’s operation. The decision not to do so is therefore very concerning and constitutes a significant missed opportunity to strengthen confidence in Georgia’s judiciary and advance its democratic development.
The United States stands ready to continue our efforts to support Parliament and the people of Georgia in credible efforts to strengthen the judicial system and the rule of law in Georgia.
The European Commission for Democracy through Law (the “Venice Commission”) published today its new draft opinion on the draft Constitution of Georgia as adopted in the second reading in June 2017, as well as on the letter submitted by the Georgian authorities to the Venice Commission on 20 September 2017, in which they committed themselves to consider new amendments.
The Venice Commission in its draft opinion reiterated its previous positive assessment of the draft Constitution, but once again underlined that any major constitutional reform must reach the widest possible consensus.
A major obstacle to reaching consensus, the report says, is the postponement to October 2024 of the entry into force of the proportional system for election of the Parliament. The Venice Commission called it “undoubtedly highly regrettable” as the passage to the proportional system is “the most important aspect of the reform”. “However, the commitment of the parliamentary majority in the letter of 20 September 2017 to consider allowing party blocks, together with the reduction of the election threshold to 3% at the 2020 elections is to be welcomed, since those amendments aim to alleviate the negative effects of the postponement.”
The new complex system for the distribution of unallocated mandates adopted in the second reading reduces the effects of the bonus for the winning party, but still very much favours the strongest party in the country. The bonus system is also a main obstacle to the acceptance of the Constitution by opposition parties and civil society, and the Venice Commission therefore strongly welcomes the commitment of the parliamentary majority to consider abandoning the bonus system altogether and adopting the full proportional distribution system as from 2024. “Such a system would favour pluralism in parliament and be fully in line with European standards. The Venice Commission expects that this step will not only be considered but immediately adopted,” the document says.
The Venice Commission has also welcomed, inter alia, the introduction of the requirement of a qualified majority of 2/3 of the votes of the Election Board in a presidential election; the lifetime appointment for the judges of the Supreme Court; the abolition of probationary periods for judges as from 31 December 2024; and the election of the Public Defender for a longer term (6 years instead of 5) by a qualified majority in parliament.
Additional recommendations provided by the Venice Commission include removing the prohibition of “creation of political parties on territorial grounds”, reconsidering the rules limiting the role of the Constitutional Court in reviewing electoral legislation; and modifying the process of the appointment of Supreme Court judges to better guarantee their independence.
Consideration of the Study on Application of the Standards of European Convention on Human Rights by the Common CourtsWednesday, 05 April 2017 15:25
In view of consideration of the standards of application of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights by the Common Courts of Georgia, the Supreme Court hosted the meeting.
The legislative and executive officials, the Head of the CoE Office, representatives of the Courts, Public Defender Office, lawyers and NGOs on human rights were cognizant with the results of the CoE and EU study.
The Chair of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee, Sofo Kiladze addressed the attendees, speaking about importance of enforcement of the European Convention and the Court decisions and the steps to be made by the state for implementation thereof. “The role of the decisions of the Court and the European Convention on Human Rights is undoubtedly important not only for human rights protection but for democratic construction and EU and NATO integration. Naturally, we encounter challenges in this process and try jointly to deal with them. One of the directions of the Human Rights Committee is development of the mechanisms of institutional guarantees of human rights and hence, this issue is of utmost importance for us to further development the decisions of the Strasbourg Court and Convention Provisions on the institutional level”.
The Head of CoE Office, Cristian Urse estimated the meeting and stated that it concerns the presentation of two studies on application and implementation of the European Convention. The similar meeting was held in last April and it has become the tradition. “It is important to maintain high expectations towards harmonization of Georgian judicial practice with ECHR. The joint project of CoE and EU aims at facilitation to provision of fundamental rights of the citizens of Georgia and for the Judges, Prosecutors and lawyers in their routine activity”.
The meeting was held within the CoE and EU joint project “Application of the European Convention on Human Rights in Georgia and Compliance of the National Legislation with European Judicial Practice”, being the part of the EaP Program Cooperation Frame.
Statement by the Delegation of the European Union to Georgia on the verdict issued by the Supreme Court on the Rustavi 2 caseFriday, 03 March 2017 16:35
The Supreme Court found guilty the member of the Parliament of Georgia Roland Akhalaia. It comes to the period when Akhalaia was Head of Regional Prosecutors Office.
According to the statement by the Supreme Court, Supreme Court ruled that Roland Akhalaia exceeded his official authority, causing substantial damage to the legitimate interest of the state and the rights of citizens.
14 June, the European Court of Human Rights, will notify its decision on the case Merabishvili v. Georgia (no. 72508/13). The decision will be made public around 10h00 Strasbourg time on Tuesday.
Background on the case: The case concerns the pre-trial detention of a former Prime Minister of Georgia. The applicant, Ivane Merabishvili, is a Georgian national who was born in 1968 and is currently detained in a prison in Tbilisi pending criminal proceedings against him for a number of offences including vote-buying and misappropriation of property. Prior to the parliamentary elections of October 2012, which resulted in a change of power, Mr Merabishvili, one of the leaders of the then ruling party, the United National Movement (UNM),
exercised, for several months in 2012, the function of Prime Minister of Georgia. After the political coalition Georgian Dream had won the parliamentary election of October 2012 and formed a new government, Mr Merabishvili was elected Secretary General of the UNM, which became the major opposition force in the country.
Mr Merabishvili was arrested on 21 May 2013 following the institution against him of three sets of criminal proceedings for using an allegedly fake passport, embezzlement and abuse of authority. On 22 May 2013 an initial court decision, based on Article 205 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, was taken remanding Mr Merabishvili in custody on the grounds that there was a risk that he might abscond or interfere with the investigation. This decision was confirmed on appeal on 25 May 2013.
Subsequently, during a pre-trial session on 25 September 2013, he asked for his pre-trial detention to be replaced by a non-custodial measure of restraint. This request was examined and rejected on the same day, without explanation, in a brief statement given by the trial court judge.
Mr Merabishvili was convicted in February 2014 of the majority of the charges against him, including vote-buying, misappropriation of property and breach of the inviolability of another person’s home and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. The charge of abuse of authority was dismissed.
Mr Merabishvili’s appeal on points of law is currently still pending before the Supreme Court. Four additional sets of criminal proceedings for various offences involving abuse of official authority when he was Minister of the Interior between 2005 and 2012, launched against him between May 2013 and July 2014, are also currently pending against him.
Relying on Article 5 §§ 1, 3 and 4 (right to liberty and security / entitlement to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial / right to have lawfulness of detention decided speedily by a court), Mr Merabishvili alleges that the decisions of 22 and 25 May 2013 ordering his pre-trial detention were based on unclear legal rules – notably in that they did not give a specific time-limit for his detention – and lacked reasonable grounds and that the courts failed to carry out a proper judicial review of his request for release in its decision of 25 September 2013.
Further relying on Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) taken in conjunction with Article 5 § 1, he alleges that the initiation of criminal proceedings against him and his arrest were used by the authorities to exclude him from the political life of the country, resulting in the weakening of his party, UNM, and preventing him from standing as a candidate in the presidential election of October 2013. He further alleges that this persecution continued during his pre-trial detention when, on 14 December 2013, he was removed from his cell and taken for a late-night meeting with the Chief Public Prosecutor who threatened him in order to obtain information about the death of the former Prime Minister, Zurab Zhvania, and about secret offshore bank accounts of the former President of Georgia. He further claims that, despite informing the authorities of this incident at the first opportunity at a hearing on his case on 17 December 2013, calling upon them to examine video footage from the prison surveillance cameras, no objective or thorough criminal investigation was ever launched into his allegations. Lastly, he emphasises that the international community has expressed concerns over the initiation of criminal proceedings against the leaders of the opposition party, including himself.
Anne Brasseur, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), will make an official visit to Georgia on 7-8 May 2015.
In Tbilisi, she is due to meet the President of Georgia, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Ms Brasseur will also have meetings with representatives of different political groups.
In addition, talks are scheduled with the Georgian delegation to PACE, the Chairperson of the Supreme Court, the Public Defender, and with representatives of civil society and the diplomatic and international community.
Ms Brasseur will also visit an internally displaced persons’ settlement in Tserovani and the administrative boundary line at Khurvaleti.
She will also give a lecture to students at the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University.
David Usupashvili, Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, and PACE President Anne Brasseur, will make a press statement at the Parliament on Thursday 7 May at 11 am.