Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Usupashvili, speaks with journalists on March 28. Photo: Georgian Parliament
Georgian Dream plans to further revise its proposal on reforming High Council of Justice (HCoJ) in an attempt to put it further in line with Venice Commission’s recommendations by introducing a requirement for six non-judge members of HCoJ to be elected by the Parliament with at least two-third majority vote.
The proposal, according to Parliamentary Chairman Davit Usupashvili, also envisages anti-deadlock measures in case a candidate fails to receive support from two-third of parliamentarians, that is 100 votes. But no anti-deadlock measure would apply to two seats, meaning that at least two out of six non-judge members of HCoJ should definitely be elected with the support of two-thirds majority, Usupashvili said.
He was speaking with journalists on March 28 after consultations with senior lawmakers from GD parliamentary majority group and after series of talks with UNM parliamentary minority representatives held over the last several days.
UNM, however, is still against of the proposed amendments to the law on common courts, arguing that new proposals are failing to address its major concern related to pre-term termination of authority of absolute majority of sitting members of HCoJ.
Composition of 15-member HCoJ, the body overseeing judicial system, consists of two components.
One is a judicial component – eight judges, which are elected in HCoJ by the judiciary’s self-governing body, Conference of Judges.
Another one is so called “parliamentary component” – six non-judge members of HCoJ, which should be nominated by legal advocacy non-governmental organizations; law schools and Georgian Bar Association and then confirmed by the Parliament.
One seat automatically goes Chairman of the Supreme Court – the rule, which is constitutionally guaranteed and for that reason the planned legislative amendments do not change this rule.
Currently, two out of six non-judge members in HCoJ are appointed by the President and four others are parliamentarians.
The Venice Commission welcomed planned change of this existing rule, but recommended to ensure that the opposition has its say in the process of confirming six non-judge members. In particular, the Venice Commission offered either to make confirmation of candidates by the Parliament with two-thirds of majority or by some proportional method. The Venice Commission, however, also recommended that if the Parliament chooses two-thirds majority option, it should also envisage a mechanism against possible deadlocks.
GD and the Justice Ministry, which drafted the bill, were initially strongly against of two-thirds majority option on the ground that there is no other post in the country that requires such a high bar for confirmation by the Parliament.
But on March 28 Parliamentary Chairman Davit Usupashvili announced that GD was accepting two-thirds majority proposal.
Usupashvili said that in order to prevent a possible deadlock and to avoid a situation wherein seats may remain vacant because of a failure to have two-thirds majority, GD was offering to apply in such cases second round of voting in which simple majority, that is 76 votes, would be enough to endorse a candidate for HCoJ membership.
Usupashvili, however, also added that GD’s proposal was not to apply this anti-deadlock measure to two seats – that means that two seats will remain vacant as long as candidates fail to receive support of two-thirds of majority of parliamentarians.
“This is fully in line with the recommendations of foreign experts and fully in line with common sense,” Usupashvili said.
He said that UNM was still refusing to support the bill because the parliamentary minority, he said, also wanted revisions to be made in the judicial component of composition of the HCoJ.
Usupashvili, however, said that it was unacceptable for the GD, because judicial component of composition of HCoJ as it is now envisaged by the bill, passed by the Parliament with its second reading last week, was agreed with the leadership of the judicially system, in particular with Chairman of Supreme Court Kote Kublashvili and also it was in line with the Venice Commission’s recommendations.
UNM argues that the proposals fail to address fully Venice Commission recommendations. UNM parliamentary minority leader, Davit Bakradze, said on March 28 that contrary to the Venice Commission’s recommendations, the bill envisages pre-term termination of authority of all but two members of HCoJ. Bakradze also said that UNM was ready to discuss proposal by GD in respect of parliamentary component of CHoJ’s composition.
The Venice Commission, which said that the amendments to the law on common courts in overall represented progress for the independence of HCoJ, recommended against complete renewal of the existing HCoJ. 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.
In particular, the bill includes provisions according to which authority of seven out of eight sitting judge members of HCoJ will be terminated on the ground that their current membership does not qualify criteria envisaged by planned new rules – these seven judges are either chairpersons of courts and deputy chairs or became HCoJ members not by being elected directly by the Conference of Judge, but by the latter’s nine-member administrative committee. But these seven judges will be able to regain seats in HCoJ if they are elected by the Conference of Judges.
The revised bill also allows chairpersons of courts and their deputies to run for HCoJ membership, but in case of election they will have to leave their post of court chairs or deputies. The bill also allows election in HCoJ those judges, which hold chairmanship of court chambers, but number of such judges in the HCoJ should not be more than three.