Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili vetoed the package of bills known as the “third wave of judicial reform”, arguing that some of its provisions contradict the principle of judicial impartiality.
He, however, welcomed “many useful” amendments to the package, which was approved by the Parliament in late December, following lengthy discussions.
“Implementing reforms and strengthening the judiciary has always been my major priority,” Margvelashvili said at a news briefing on January 24, a day before the expiration date for signing the package.
“The presented package contains many useful and important amendments, including those amendments, on the introduction and technical support of which, our administration has spent hundreds of thousands of lari, including the electronic case assigning system,” he said. “But at the same time, this package contains provisions, which contradict the principles of judicial impartiality and the independence of judges.”
“Stemming from the significance of the package and the judicial reform in general, I decided to exercise my constitutional right and I offer the parliament justifications for objection, most important [of which] are the amendments, which relate to the rule of electing court chairpersons and which abolish the probationary periods in the future,” President Margvelashvili said.
The presidential office reported that among the submitted justifications, the President offered the Parliament to lift the obligation of a three-year probationary period for judges before their lifetime appointment - according to the package approved by the Parliament, only those incumbent and former members of Constitutional and Supreme Courts, who have at least three-year work experience, will not have to go through a three-year probationary period.
The President also offered to elect court chairpersons by judges instead of appointing them for a term of five years by the High Council of Justice, as it was formulated in the initial drafts but amended later in favor of the High Council appointments. The President also noted that one individual cannot serve simultaneously as a court chairperson and a chairperson of a committee of judges or a chamber. The President also proposed to deprive judicial officials of the right to simultaneously be members of the High Council of Justice.
Margvelashvili also offered to define the number of judges in the Supreme Court by law. According to the package of bills endorsed by the Parliament, the number of Supreme Court judges should be no less than 16. According to the current rule, the number of judges in the Supreme Court is defined by the Supreme Court Plenum and not by law.
The Parliament will have to either accept the presidential objections or override the veto with the support of at least 76 lawmakers.
“I believe that by taking these motivated objections into account, we will receive higher quality legislation and higher quality judiciary,” Margvelashvili said on Tuesday.
Prior to the President’s decision to veto the package his Parliamentary Secretary Ana Dolidze held consultations with representatives of non-governmental organizations and Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili.
The “third wave” of judicial reforms was one of the main issues discussed at the meeting of Gianni Buquicchio, President of the Venice Commission, with President Margvelashvili in Tbilisi on January 20. “We have already given several opinions on the judiciary in Georgia and I hope that this time our recommendations will be followed fully,” Buquicchio said after the meeting with Margvelashvili.