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President's Objections over Vetoed Judicial Council Bill
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 25 Apr.'13 / 20:50

President Saakashvili, who has vetoed bill on reforming High Council of Justice (HCoJ), has sent his objections to the Parliament, which, among others, includes a proposal retaining presidential power to appoint a member in HCoJ, a body overseeing judicial system.

Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, uniting over thirty non-governmental, business associations and media organizations, released on April 25 a statement saying that the bill, which was vetoed by the President, “unarguably empowers judiciary and increases possibility for its independence.”

“Timely enactment of the bill is of vital importance for the judicial system,” the statement reads. “Presidential veto may hamper this process, which will damage first and foremost the interests of the judiciary.”

According to presidential objections, the bill was returned back to the legislative body because the Parliament “has not taken into consideration” recommendations from the Venice Commission.

One of the main objections concerns termination of authority of 13 out of 15 sitting members of the HCoJ, whose current membership does not comply with planned new criteria.

President offers termination of authority of two president-appointed sitting members and four lawmakers who currently hold seats in HCoJ; the President also offers to terminate membership of those judge members of HCoJ, who became council members not by being elected directly by the self-governing body of judiciary, Conference of Judges, but by the latter’s nine-member administrative committee; currently there are three such judge members in HCoJ. As a result President offers pre-term termination of authority of 9 out of 15 HCoJ members.

The President offers to allow those judge members of HCoJ, who hold court chairmanship posts, to choose whether they prefer to retain their membership in the council or to quit court chairmanship post.

Another key objection is related to the rule of electing six non-judge members of HCoJ by the Parliament. 
 
According to the Parliament-endorsed bill these six members should be elected by the Parliament with secret ballot from candidates nominated by legal advocacy non-governmental organizations; law schools and law departments of various universities and Georgian Bar Association. The Parliament will require two-third majority to confirm candidates; in practice it means that support of UNM parliamentary minority group will also be required. But in order to avoid a deadlock, the bill envisages holding of second round of voting in case in the first round candidates fail to garner support of the two-third of parliamentarians; a simple majority – that is 76 votes – will be enough for a candidate to be confirmed as HCoJ member in the second round; in practice it means that in second round GD will require no UNM support in endorsing a candidate.

The bill, however, also envisages that no anti-deadlock measure should apply to two out of six seats, meaning that two candidates should definitely be confirmed with two-thirds majority; it means that two seats in the HCoJ will remain vacant as long as the Parliament fails to select a candidate enjoying support of at least 100 parliamentarians.

President’s objections say that these provisions act as disincentive to engaging with the parliamentary minority group in the process of selecting and confirming non-judge members of HCoJ.

The President offers four non-judge members of HCoJ, instead of six, to be confirmed by the Parliament with candidates for three seats to be selected by GD parliamentary majority group and candidates for one seat by UNM parliamentary minority group; there should be at least three candidates for each vacant seat. According to President’s proposal all candidates should be confirmed with two-third majority, but if not possible, two candidates for each seat, which garner most of the votes, should be submitted to the Conference of Judges and the latter should elect HCoJ member from these two candidates.

The President also wants retaining his power to appoint a member in HCoJ (now the President has the right to appoint two members). The President cites yet to be enacted constitutional clause, which gives the President the power to appoint a member in HCoJ; the presidential objection notes that depriving the President this power by the bill in question would contradict this constitutional clause, which will go into force after the October, 2013 presidential elections.

The Venice Commission said that the removal of the power of the President to appoint members of HCoJ “is in principle a positive step”; it, however, also noted a contradiction that would arise after the new constitutional clause enters into force.

The President also offers to give the right of electing one remaining non-judge member of the HCoJ to the Conference of Judges, saying that it would “increase level of involvement of judiciary’s self-governing body in the process of composition” of HCoJ.

Georgian Dream parliamentary majority group is determined to override the presidential veto next week.

89 votes are required for overturning the veto. GD has 83 MPs, but can count on support of those lawmakers who have quit UNM parliamentary minority group, like it has once already happened when the Parliament overturned presidential veto on amnesty bill four months ago.

According to procedures if a veto is overturned, a bill again is sent to the President for signature; if the latter refuses to sign it within seven working days, the Parliamentary Chairman is authorized to sign the bill into law.

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