President, Parliament at Odds over Judicial Council Bill
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 24 Mar.'13 / 19:40

President Saakashvili has refused to include the bill on common courts, key component of which is change of rule of composition of the High Council of Justice, in the agenda of Parliament’s special session scheduled for Monday.

This upcoming week falls outside normal legislative sitting period, so Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Usupashvili, requested on March 22 the President to convene a special session on Monday to discuss some of the unfinished items on the Parliament’s agenda, including third reading of constitutional amendment and third reading of the bill on common courts, revised draft of which was passed by the Parliament with its second reading on March 22.

President Saakashvili issued a decree on Sunday authorizing holding of the special session of the Parliament on March 25; the agenda of the special session, as defined by the President, includes 49 items, including third reading of the constitutional amendment; it, however, does not include draft amendments to the law on common courts.

Some lawmakers from the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority, which is strongly against of further delay of adoption of the bill on common courts, have said that the President’s refusal to include it in the agenda should not be an obstacle to discuss it on Monday’s special session; such an interpretation, however, may be a source of controversy. The Parliament has the right to hold a special session even if the President refuses to convene it; but whether the Parliament should stick strictly to special session’s agenda as defined by the President or not, is likely to be debated when the Parliament’s bureau gathers on Monday just before the special session.

In an interview with Imedi TV late on March 22, President Saakashvili spoke out against the bill on common courts and said: “it’s not reform, its anti-reform” of judiciary. Back in December, after the Parliament passed the bill with its first reading, Saakashvili threatened to veto it.

Asked whether he still thought of vetoing the bill, the President told Imedi TV to wait and see what the final decision of the Parliament would be. Saakashvili, however, also added: “I will use all the resources available if the bill is approved in its current form.”

Speaking on behalf of the President on March 23, President’s advisor, Nino Kalandadze, said on March 23, that with this proposed bill the government aimed to “completely subdue judiciary.”

Lawmakers from President Saakashvili’s UNM party refused to support the bill, claiming that the Georgian Dream and the government ignored Venice Commission’s key recommendations.

The Venice Commission, which said that the proposals were in overall representing progress for the independence of the High Council of Justice (HCoJ), recommended against complete renewal of the existing HCoJ. It said that even though the composition of the current HCoJ seemed “unsatisfactory”, the members should “complete their mandate.” It, however, also said that applying “transitory measures” might be possible in order to “bring the current Council closer to the future method of composition.”

The revised bill, passed by the Parliament with its second reading, includes couple of new provisions which make the bill more in line with the Venice Commission’s recommendations than it was before.

UNM lawmakers and President’s administration say that failure to fully reflect Venice Commission’s recommendations in the bill will undermine Georgia’s goal to have Association Agreement with the EU by the time of Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November. Their claim is based on a declaration by the presidency of the European People’s Party in which UNM is an observer member; the March 14 declaration calls on the Georgian government to fully implement the Venice Commission’s recommendations, saying that it, among some other issues, will enable further progress in Georgia’s European integration.

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