Parliament discussed with its second reading further revised draft of amendments to the law on common courts, envisaging, among other issues, change of rule of composition of the High Council of Justice.
The bill is under consideration in the Parliament for more than three months already. Since the initial bill was passed with its first reading in late December, the proposal was revised after the Venice Commission put its recommendations in early March.
In March the amended bill was passed with its second reading, but since then the proposal was further revised in an attempt to put it more in line with the Venice Commission’s recommendations than it was before.
These recent revisions required procedurally the bill to be reverted back to the stage of its second reading and that’s why the Parliament had to discuss it with the second reading actually for the second time. The Parliament, however, failed to put it on vote on April 3 as it ran out of time and the session was closed at 9pm.
The recent revisions in the bill apply to the so called ‘parliamentary component’ of composition of the 15-member High Council of Justice (HCoJ), the body overseeing judicial system.
Rule of composition of HCoJ 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.
According to the revised bill, discussed on April 3, these six non-judge members should be confirmed by the Parliament with two-thirds majority; in practice it means that votes of UNM parliamentary minority lawmakers would also be required. But in order to avoid a deadlock, the bill offers 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.
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.
Currently, two out of six non-judge members in HCoJ are appointed by the President and four others are parliamentarians. These sitting members of HCoJ will lose their seats within one month after the new regulations go into force.
UNM parliamentary minority group was against of the bill at every stage of its discussion. UNM argues that the bill does not take fully into consideration recommendations of the Venice Commission.
During the April 3 parliamentary debates UNM lawmakers claimed that proposed two-thirds majority with accompanied anti-deadlock rule was not an enough mechanism guaranteeing parliamentary minority to have its say in the process of selection and confirmation of non-judge members of HCoJ. They also argued it was “discriminatory” rule, because among six members four might be elected with simple majority and two definitely required two-thirds majority.
According to the bill 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 of composition – these seven judges are either chairpersons and deputy chairs of course 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, according to the bill, will have the right to nominate their candidacy for membership in HCoJ and regain seat in the council if 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 and collegiums, but number of such judges in the HCoJ should not be more than three.
UNM argues that judicial component of HCoJ also runs counter to the recommendations from the Venice Commission, because proposed provisions envisage pre-term termination of authority of absolute majority of sitting judge members of HCoJ.
GD says that the new rule applied to judicial component is agreed with the Supreme Court and will not be revised. The Supreme Court has declined requests for comment on its position on the bill.
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.”