Parliament passed with its final reading on October 4 amendment to the law on common courts envisaging setting three-year probationary period for newly recruited judges before their appointment for life.
Appointment of judges before retirement is envisaged by new constitutional model, which will go into force after new president, elected in the October 27 election, takes office. Currently, sitting judges hold office for a ten-year term.
The constitutional provision, approved in 2010, also provides for possibility of setting a trial period for judges of “not more than three years” before they take office for life. This new provision also gave flexibility to lawmakers by saying that such a probationary period “may” be set.
Supreme Court Chairman, Kote Kublashvili, called on the lawmakers on October 3 not to hurry with approval of this amendment, setting the three-year probationary period, and to launch detailed discussions over this issue with all the stakeholders.
Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, uniting over thirty non-governmental and media organizations, has spoken out against the setting of a three-year probationary period and offered the Parliament to postpone enforcement of the constitutional provision, which envisages appointment of judges for life. The coalition called on the authorities to focus on improving new judges’ recruitment criteria and practice, as well as on improving mechanism for disciplinary sanctions against judges, rather than rushing to move on a new system of appointing judges before retirement.
Back in 2010 when the previous Parliament was discussing new constitutional model, the Venice Commission, Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs, recommended in respect of this probationary period provision that it was “problematic”, citing that it may undermine independence of judges as they may feel under pressure to decide cases in a particular way during the trial period.
Shalva Shavgulidze, a lawmaker from the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority group, who sponsored the bill, said that the proposal includes a provision to elaborate detailed criteria and procedures based on which monitoring of judges should be carried out during the probationary period.
Criteria and procedures of monitoring should be elaborated before May 1, 2014 with “broad” involvement of all the stakeholders, including through consultations with the Venice Commission, MP Shavgulidze said.
Monitoring, according to the bill, has to be carried out by the High Council of Justice (HCoJ), a body in charge of overseeing judicial system.
Sitting judges, who are serving their ten-year term, will not automatically be re-appointed for life after the new constitutional model goes into force. MP Shavgulidze, however, said that sitting judges, willing to take the office for life, will be able to at first step down and reapply to undergo three-year probationary period, putting them in an equal condition with newly recruited judges.
This bill, passed with its final reading on October 4, was among those about 160 legislative amendments, which the Parliament passed since September to put existing laws in line with the new constitutional model, which will go into effect after the presidential elections, and which will significantly increase authority of the PM at the expense of cutting presidential powers.
In a separate development, related to the judiciary, on October 4 the Parliament failed again to fill two vacant seats in the High Council of Justice. Two out of six non-judge members of the 15-seat HCoJ, according to the law, should be confirmed by the Parliament with two-thirds majority. Proposed candidates fell far short of required 100 votes; low number of votes in favor for each of the three proposed candidate indicated that even many of the GD lawmakers did not vote for them.
On October 4 the Parliament went on recess till October 30 – move related to upcoming presidential election, giving lawmakers more time to engage in campaigning for presidential candidates of their respective parties.