President Giorgi Margvelashvili met on February 14 with contenders who are seeking to be nominated as next chairperson of the Supreme Court.
28 persons have applied after the President called on “professional circles” and other stakeholders to name their favorite candidates for the post of Supreme Court chairmanship to replace Kote Kublashvili, whose 10-year term in office expires later this month.
Two lawmakers, practicing lawyers, law scholars, several current and former judges, ex-chief prosecutor, and three members of High Council of Justice, a body overseeing judicial system, are among the applicants from which the President has to select and nominate one for confirmation to the Parliament. A candidate will need support of at least 76 MPs to be approved on the post. Under the law the President was not obliged to go through this procedure, but did so to, as he put it, make the process transparent and to foster more public engagement.
In his opening remarks at the meeting on February 14, President Margvelashvili said that active involvement of public and broad range of stakeholders made the process “open” and it set “high standards.”
He described it as “one of the most interesting democratic processes in Georgia” in respect of the judiciary.
“The issue is about… how to deepen confidence towards the judiciary, which regrettably has gone through multiple difficulties and problems. The answer, I think, is precisely in this open process, which you are now part of and which the entire Georgian society was part of,” Margvelashvili told contenders at the beginning of the meeting.
“This process is a step forward in terms of public engagement and strengthening of democracy,” the President said.
“Judiciary is a pillar of the statehood. Sustainability, stability of and public confidence towards the judiciary is a guarantor of establishment of stable political system,” he added.
Before announcing about seeking applicants for the Supreme Court chairmanship, the President held consultations with representatives from the civil society and judiciary, as well as with members of Georgian Dream parliamentary majority, UNM and Free Democrats parliamentary opposition groups. The aim of those consultations, according to President’s office, was to discuss criteria, beyond narrow list of requirements set by the law, based on which a candidate had to be selected. After those consultations, the President said, several criteria were identified, including: “being principled, having managerial skills, being free from political influences, and professionalism.”
But one of the criteria, namely “being free from political influence”, became a source of controversy including among lawmakers from Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party, part of the GD ruling coalition.
Two lawmakers – Shalva Shavgulidze of the opposition Free Democrats and Zakaria Kutsnashvili of Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party, are among 28 contenders seeking Supreme Court chairmanship.
MP Kutsnashvili’s nomination has not been endorsed by the GD parliamentary majority as a whole and for some GD lawmakers his nomination came as a surprise. In an attempt to distance themselves from the selection process, the government and GD ruling coalition have been publicly noncommittal about their preferred candidates.
GD parliamentary majority leader, MP Davit Saganelidze, was a person selected by the ruling coalition to hold consultations with the President on criteria. After MP Kutsnashvili applied for nomination, about twenty MPs from GDDG party, who support his nomination, released a statement criticizing MP Saganelidze for agreeing on criterion that a candidate “should be free from political influences”, which they interpreted as a requirement to exclude contenders with political party affiliation. The statement criticizes it as “discriminatory” and unconstitutional. They also complained that criteria were “neither discussed nor agreed” with them. MP Saganelidze and MP Kutsnashvili even traded barbs with the latter calling the former “irresponsible” and Saganelidze calling on Kutsnashvili to “measure words” in order “not to get a broken nose.” Chairman of GDDG parliamentary faction, Gia Volski, blamed “lack of communication” for the controversy.
President’s adviser for human rights, Kakha Kozhoridze, said that “being free from political influence” does not necessarily mean excluding a political party member from the selection process.
During the meeting behind the closed doors with the President, which lasted for about five hours, contenders were able to present their visions over the judiciary.