Warsaw, September 2019 – The nomination and appointment of Supreme Court Judges in Georgia is lacking transparency and accountability despite some positive measures to build public trust in the judiciary, according to a new report from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
“ODIHR has been monitoring the process in Georgia to help strengthen the country’s judicial independence”, said Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, ODIHR Director.
“The recent constitutional amendments significantly increased the number of Supreme Court judges appointed for life. It is therefore crucial to have a fair, independent and transparent process to ensure that only the most qualified and competent candidates are appointed.”
The monitoring exercise is assessing the compliance of the procedure of nominating candidates for the positions of Supreme Court Judges of Georgia with the applicable legal framework, international standards and good practices, and today’s report identifies various shortcomings in the nomination process.
The High Council of Justice has generally implemented the technical aspects of the selection process in line with the law, but its work is characterized by strong internal divisiveness, resulting in hostility and heated arguments that create an unprofessional atmosphere.
ODIHR has taken note of some constructive changes. For example, the introduction of an open competitive recruitment process that allows for significant public scrutiny of the process is a commendable step in advancing transparency and accountability in Georgia and building public confidence in the judiciary. However, very few of ODIHR’s recommendations from previous legal reviews have been addressed, and a number of shortcomings remain.
The public interviews of the candidates were generally transparent. But advance public notice of the hearings was very short, and the venue could not accommodate the high level of interest to observe and report on the process. Positively, the Public Broadcaster live-broadcasted the hearings on social media and audio recordings of the hearings were posted online.
Transparency, professionalism and fairness are key to building public trust in courts. However, ODIHR’s monitors noted that the High Council of Justice did not adopt any rules of procedure or a code of conduct for the hearings to ensure a fair and orderly process. This approach enabled the unequal treatment of candidates and further limited transparency.
A previous ODIHR Legal Opinion on the appointment process welcomed the introduction of an open appointment procedure and the efforts of parliament to fill potential gaps by elaborating more detailed provisions on the selection criteria and procedures. At the same time, it also noted a number of key shortcomings, including a lack of guarantee for transparency in the decision-making process to ensure that decisions are taken on the basis of genuine and objective considerations.
This activity was initiated in response to a request from the Public Defender of Georgia. ODIHR’s team started its work on 29 June 2019. This has included monitoring the interviews of all 49 candidates before the High Council of Justice and related meetings. ODIHR’s monitoring team will continue to follow the appointment process by monitoring the hearings in the Parliament, and will issue a final report with recommendations approximately two months after the end of the nomination process.