Parliamentary committees on legal affairs and human rights endorsed at separate hearings on February 25 President’s nomination of Nino Gvenetadze as new chairperson of the Supreme Court.
She will need support of at least 76 MPs to be confirmed on the post for a ten-year term.
Gvenetadze was sacked as judge of Supreme Court in December, 2005 after six-year service following judicial disciplinary commission’s decision accusing her of misconduct; Gvenetadze and several other judges, also dismissed at the time, argued that it was a retaliation for their resistance to yield to pressure exerted by the authorities and then chairman of Supreme Court Kote Kublashvili, whose ten-year term in office expired on February 23. Gvenetadze and several other judges spoke out publicly about what they called pressure on judges in November, 2005.
She told parliamentary committee for legal affairs on February 25 that if confirmed by the Parliament she would return to the judiciary with the intention of “cooperation” to help increase standards and not with an intention of “revenge.”
“I am holding no grudge; I am willing to cooperate and communicate with judges, and to stand firmly for protection of their rights,” Gvenetadze said, but also added that “judges should change existing standards and overcome problems of the past.”
At the hearing in the parliamentary committee for legal affairs, session of which was thwarted twice due to lack of quorum a day earlier, Gvenetadze outlined her priorities in case of becoming chief justice.
Unlike former chairman of the Supreme Court, Kote Kublashvili, who was strongly against of a rule which sets three-year probationary period for nearly recruited judges before their appointment for life, Gvenetadze voiced support for a three-year trial period.
Among the priorities Gvenetadze listed increasing of Supreme Court’s cassation role, which, she said, should decrease rate of appeals from Georgia to the European Court of Human Rights. She also said that the standard of justification of court rulings needs to be increased.
If confirmed as chairperson of the Supreme Court, she will also automatically become chair of the High Council of Justice (HCoJ), a body overseeing judiciary. She said that HCoJ should activate now actually “halted” mechanism of disciplinary probe into conduct of judges.
“There is a need to increase accountability of the judiciary,” she said.
Asked about idea of setting up special commission to look into alleged miscarriages of justice, which the government was intending but then decided to drop the plan, Gvenetadze responded that if ever established, review of cases should be carried out only by the judiciary itself, suggesting that it could be done by a separate chamber of newly recruited judges, who are not burdened by past mistakes.
“Decision [whether to launch this process or not] is up to you,” she told the parliamentary committee. “But the judicial system should be ready both by professional judges and authoritativeness to tackle this task of restoration of rights of individuals and rectifying shortcomings, accumulated over the past nine years [referring to the time when UNM party was in power]. It should also be in the interest of the judiciary itself, because there will be no positive trust towards the judicial system if no such step is taken and if the judiciary itself does not play an active role in this process.”
She said that those past verdicts, which “cause suspicion of broader public”, will always remain a “problem” haunting the judiciary. Gvenetadze said that disciplinary probe by the HCoJ can be applied to such cases, but also added that limitation period can be an impediment to this process. She said that only in “extreme cases” criminal code can be applied, which makes delivery of unjust verdict “deliberately” punishable.
Gvenetadze also said that if confirmed as chief justice, she will cooperate closely with the Ministry of Justice in the process of reforming judiciary, adding that these reforms should be “fully in compliance” with the commitments undertaken by Georgia under the Association Agreement with the EU.
Gvenetadze was a member of the Republican Party in 2008-2012, which at the time was in the opposition. She said that her past affiliation with the Republican Party does not make her politically biased.
Five out of eight members of parliamentary committee for legal affairs, present at a session on February 25, supported Gvenetadze; three others abstained. All ten members of the human rights committee, present at the session, voted in favor.
Lawmakers from UNM opposition party were not present as they boycott committee meetings in Tbilisi in protest over partial relocation of the Parliament from Kutaisi to the capital city.
UNM lawmakers are strongly against of Gvenetadze’s nomination because of her affiliation the Republican Party, and because she was a judge of Supreme Court when the judiciary was engulfed in the corruption. UNM lawmakers also say that when Gvenetadze was judge, she stood behind the Supreme Court’s statement in 2003, calling on the prosecutor’s office to probe into investigative TV program on Rustavi 2 channel.
Lawmakers from opposition Free Democrats party will meet Gvenetadze on February 26 and announce about their decision after that meeting. But some FD MPs, including Shalva Shavgulidze, who himself was one of the contenders for the chief justice post, have already voiced their support for Gvenetadze’s nomination.
GD parliamentary majority leader, MP Davit Saganelidze, said that in general stance of GD lawmakers towards Gvenetadze was “quite positive”, but “there are also several MPs who have different opinion.”