The 13-member selection commission under the Ministry of Justice of Georgia shortlisted five candidates for a vacant position of the Georgia-nominated judge to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Ministry of Justice reported on May 28.
The following candidates have been shortlisted by the commission:
- Lado Chanturia - Georgia’s ambassador to Germany since 2014, Chairman of the Supreme Court in 1999-2004, Justice Minister in 1998-1999;
- Sophio Japaridze - Prime Minister’s advisor on human rights and gender equality since 2014;
- Shota Getsadze - judge, member of the High Council of Georgia since 2013;
- Tamar Alania - judge, member of the High Council of Georgia since 2013;
- Irakli Dondoladze - prosecutor, deputy head of the Legal Support Department at the Chief Prosecutor’s Office.
Three out of five candidates will be chosen for nomination by the Government of Georgia and will be presented to an international panel of Council of Europe experts, which offers nominating governments confidential advice on potential candidates before the final list of three is sent to the Assembly.
Political Party, Civil Society Reactions
Representatives of civil society organizations and the Public Defender’s Office criticized the commission’s choice, saying the impartiality of commission members “raises questions.”
Ana Natsvlishvili, who sat at the 13-member selection commission on behalf the Coalition for Independent and Transparent Judiciary, said that the “process was not explicitly negative, but as its results demonstrated, the impartiality of the selection is under serious question: those candidates, whose qualification and integrity, in my opinion and of many others, deserved higher scores, failed to be selected.”
Ucha Nanuashvili, who also sat at the selection commission, questioned the commission’s impartiality as well. “Regretfully, some candidates, who, in my opinion, did not deserve top evaluations, made it into the shortlist, which puts the objectivity of some commission members under question.”
Concerns have been voiced by political party representatives as well.
“That today, non-governmental organizations and independent legal experts are already questioning the selection criteria for these five candidates, speaks to the fact that such questions might emerge in Strasbourg as well. There, their professionalism, including their language skills, will be assessed and if their credentials are insufficient, it will definitely show up in Strasbourg,” MP Zurab Chiaberashvili of the Movement for Liberty – European Georgia said.
“The Georgian Dream and [Bidzina] Ivanishvili (former Prime Minister) want to select a judge, who will fulfill their will and with that, they are trying to somehow influence the decisions of the Strasbourg Court,” Akaki Minashvili of the United National Movement stated.
Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who chaired the selection commission, dismissed the accusations, saying that the selection process was “absolutely transparent.”
“Each member of the commission has the right to have questions; each member of the commission has the right to have a favorite candidate. We worked during these two days in an absolutely transparent manner, in the presence of journalists at the interviews. None of the candidates expressed their complaints and those who enjoyed a wide consensus made it into the shortlist.”
Mamuka Mdinaradze, chairman of the Georgian Dream faction, said on May 29 that the selection procedures were so “transparent and democratic” that Georgia-nominated candidates “will have no problems” to be approved by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.
Repeat Selection Process
The application process was launched on February 21, at the request of the Committee on the Election of Judges to the European Court of Human Rights, a special committee of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, which rejected the three Georgia-nominated candidates to ECHR on January 24, citing lack of qualifications.
68 candidates filed for the position by April 13, the deadline for application submissions. After the initial assessment of the candidates’ compliance with job requirements, the commission shortlisted 25 candidates. The number of applications was further reduced to 24, as one candidate failed to pass the language exam (in French or in English - the languages in which Court judgments are drafted). The selection commission interviewed 23 applicants (one candidate withdrew his application) on May 27-28 and shortlisted five candidates.
Once the Assembly receives the list of the three nominees (by August 31 at the latest), the Committee on the Election of Judges to the European Court of Human Rights will interview each of the three candidates in person and will scrutinize their CVs, in a standardized format, before recommending whether or not to accept the list – in other words, whether it believes all three candidates are sufficiently well qualified to do the job. If so, it will indicate which candidates it believes are the strongest. If not, states are asked to submit a new list.
The Assembly - made up of 324 parliamentarians - then proceeds to vote on the candidates in a secret ballot, held during plenary sessions, based on the committee recommendations. An absolute majority of votes cast is required in the first round. If this is not achieved, a second round is held and the candidate with the most votes is duly elected to serve on the Court for a non-renewable term of nine years.
The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights rules on individual or state applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The tenure of Nona Tsotsoria, current Georgia-nominated ECHR judge, expired in January 2017, but was prolonged due to the PACE committee rejection of Georgia-nominated candidates.