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Amendments to the Draft Law on Common Courts

By Inga Kakulia
Friday, April 19
Parliamentary Majority made amendments to the Draft Law on Common Courts based on the recommendations of the Venice Commission. The Parliament of Georgia will consider two recommendations offered by the Venice Commission on the 17th of April.

According to the new article added to the draft law, High Council of Justice should nominate the candidate for the Chairperson of the Supreme Court or the Judge of the Supreme Court only if they satisfy the general requirements established by the Constitution of Georgia as well as one of the following additional conditions:

They are an acting or a former judge, whose judiciary authority has not expired;

Their vocational qualifications correspond to the highest status of the Supreme Court Judge.

The project states that the High Council of Justice is authorized to nominate a candidate even if they didn’t pass the qualification examination of a judge.

Another amendment was made regarding the evaluation process. If the candidate for the Judge of the Supreme Court is a member of the High Council of Justice, they are not allowed to partake in the procedures of appraisal and voting and are not entitled to question candidates at the hearing of the High Council of Justice.

The plenary sitting where the application of the Venice Commission recommendations was supposed to be discussed, started with a fierce dispute.

The Opposition lawmaker, Khatuna Gogorishvili, demanded that today’s session begin with the public defender, Nino Lomjaria’s speech regarding the procedure of choosing the candidates for the Supreme Court because the opposition didn’t have enough time to investigate the proposed changes in the draft law properly.

The Chairman of the Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, responded by saying the according to the agenda the second hearing for the Common Court was scheduled so they had to stick to the plan. Therefore, he asked the Chairperson of the Legal Issues Committee, Anri Okhanashvili to speak first. This caused an uproar among the MPS who refused to listen and boycotted the hearing. Mr. Kobakhidze was forced to postpone the hearing.

The opposition is skeptical about the changes made in the draft law and says that the Georgian Government isn’t properly acknowledging the Venice Commission recommendations and the general tone of the document. The majority is still portraying the report as an overall positive assessment while the opposition insists the Venice Commission indicates the general displeasure concerning the Draft Law.

The Member of the Parliament, Eka Beselia who has been one of the most prominent oppositional forces in this case, and whose recommendations regarding the possible changes got rejected by the Legal Issues Committee, noted that ruling party's statement, saying that the Venice Commission's recommendations are taken into consideration is another insult and a lie. Eka Beselia pointed out that the only thing that the ruling party took into account is to remove the examination from the criteria for the selection of judges.

“We were saying that the test as a barrier could not have been implemented. Conflict of interest is not even considered. It was said that the government shared the recommendation of the Venice Commission, which is a lie. The Venice Commission states that if a candidate is a person registered in the judiciary of the Supreme Court, they should not be a member of the Council of Justice at the same time. With this proposed amendment, the ruling party suggests that members of the Council of Justice will be able to nominate themselves without a single vote, which is not what the Venice Commission offers. No other recommendation was considered. If they weren’t planning to implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission why did they address them in the first place? Why did they make public promises to apply those recommendations? “-said Beselia.

The opposition has taken to the streets to voice their concerns over the Common Courts Legislation.

“The European Georgia” and “Free Democrats” are holding a rally outside the Supreme Court. They are conducting a protest against the parliament.

One person was detained at the protest rally near the Supreme Court of Georgia. In particular, Zaza Davitaia, representative of the newspaper 'Asaval-Dasavali.'

Davitaia's detention was followed by verbal and physical confrontation. During the speech of Shalva Shavgulidze, candidate of the block "European Georgia - Free Democrats" in Mtatsminda majoritarian district, Davitaia asked him why he is standing next to Sandro Girgvliani's murderers today. Davitaia's question irritated several protesters, which turned into controversy.

"My justice has not yet been restored. Shalva Shavgulidze protected my rights as an attorney. Now he is standing beside people that punished and detained me,” said Zaza Davitaia.

The Chairman of the Legal Issues Committee, Anri Okhanashvili, called on the opposition to discuss the draft law on Common Courts with no political narrative.

“We have adopted all the key recommendations; we reached a compromise regarding the examination. Was there a conversation that the information should be sent to the Parliament? There was a demand and we reciprocated. Was there a conversation about the regarding the general criteria? We adopted requirements for Integrity and Competency. Was there a conversation about minimizing the probability of conflicts of interest? We incorporated that as well. Now you come here and talk about wanting to improve the juridical system. Stop trying to stretch the process out. Ask the questions of substance and we can argue about those.”-said Mr. Okhanashvili, mostly addressing the members of the previous parliament.

For now, Parliamentary hearing of Public Defender Nino Lomjaria regarding the draft law on the selection of the judges of the Supreme Court was postponed to tomorrow.

According to her, it is important that the Parliament hears her comments before voting for the bill, because otherwise “the hearing will become formal and will not bring any results,” noted Lomjaria.