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European Georgia: only 1 out of 10 candidates meets criteria to be a Supreme Court Judge

By Levan Abramishvili
Tuesday, October 22
Out of all the candidates for the position of the Supreme Court judge that the Parliament heard so far, only one candidate, Tamar Zambakhidze fulfills criteria elaborated by the opposition party European Georgia (EG). As said by the political party, they will support Zambakhidze’s candidature as the Judge of the Supreme Court of Georgia.

According to the same assessment methodology, the current Prosecutor General Shalva Tadumadze and the Chair of the Constitutional Court Zaza Tavadze do not meet the minimum standard set out by the EG for judges.

European Georgia evaluates the candidates on a scale of 10, based on three criteria. These include competence, integrity, and general education/values. (1-3 points - does not meet the minimum standard to be a judge; 4-6 points - meets the minimum standard to be a judge but does not meet the standard to be a Supreme Court Judge; 7-10 points - meets the standard of the Supreme Court Judge.)

Tamar Zambakhidze, the only candidate fulfilling the criteria received 8 points in competence, 7 in integrity and 9 in general education/values, therefore being deemed as suited to be a Supreme Court Judge by the EG.

While the Prosecutor General Shalva Tadumadze scored only one point in general education/values and integrity and two points in competence.

In assessing the candidates MPs Otar Kakhidze, Giga Bokeria, Irakli Abesadze, Sergo Ratiani, Giorgi Kandelaki, Khatuna Gogorishvili and Sergi Kapanadze used the documents presented to the Parliament, portfolios of each candidate put together by the Open Society Foundation Georgia and the public hearings of the candidates at the Legal Issues Committee of the Parliament.

Shalva Tadumadze was heard at the Committee on October 9, with the main topic of discussion being his university diploma.

The NGO Transparency International Georgia researched the biography of the General Prosecutor and found that although Tadumadze’s diploma says he enrolled in the institute in 1993, the institute was established in 1994.

“Transparency International” has conducted an inquiry about the biography of the acting General Prosecutor that says that he enrolled in Institute 1993, but the educational institution itself was founded in 1994. In his biography, Tadumadze states that he graduated from university in 1999, while his diploma indicates that 1998 is the last year of his studies. In addition, the General Prosecutor graduated from high school in May 1994, so it is not clear how he managed to enroll in the university in 1993.

Recent constitutional amendments and changes to the organic law of Georgia on common courts, the minimum number of judges at the Supreme Court increased from 16 to 28, at the same time, 10-year appointments were changed to lifetime tenures. The High Council of Justice (HCJ) was given the authority to nominate candidates for parliamentary appointment.

The HCJ unexpectedly forwarded the names of the 10 candidates to the Parliament in December 2018 without a formal selection process, a decision that met with strong public criticism. Therefore, before the legislation was amended and a selection process was developed, Parliament agreed not to review candidates.

On 1 May 2019, Parliament finally adopted comprehensive rules on the selection and approval of prospective judges of the Supreme Court, with recommendations and observations from the Venice Commission, the OSCE / ODIHR, the Public Defender of Georgia and other non-state actors.

Following these changes, the High Council of Justice began the selection of candidates for the Supreme Court of Justice and, at the beginning of September 2019, it provided a list of 20 candidates to be sent to the Parliament of Georgia for approval.

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which observed the selection process, has found that the nomination and appointment of Supreme Court Judges in Georgia are lacking transparency and accountability despite some positive measures to build public trust in the judiciary.

The co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for monitoring Georgia concluded a visit to Tbilisi on 25 September 2019. During which, they noted that Parliament “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 based on a new list of candidates, properly established by the High Council of Justice and preferably after the 2020 parliamentary elections, in line with the Venice Commission recommendations.”

The highly controversial appointment of the Supreme Court Judges remains as one of the main challenges for the current Georgian Dream government. With the pressure from the international partners and the civil society in Georgia, it remains to be seen whether the Parliament will decide online with the numerous recommendations aiming at guaranteeing the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.