The head of the Georgian Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, Eka Beselia, has resigned from her position in an attempt to stall the ‘rushed and unjustified process of lifetime appointment of judges’.
The dispute has caused a rift within the ruling Georgian Dream party, as several rights groups warned that that the appointments showed the ‘overwhelming power of the clan’ inside Georgia’s High Council of Justice.
On 24 December, the High Council of Justice (HCOJ) sent a list of 10 nominees to parliament to be appointed for lifetime terms to the Supreme Court. The HCOJ is an independent organ responsible for appointing judges, created to promote efficiency and independence of the judiciary.
The list included Mikheil Chinchaladze, who Transparency International — Georgia accused in July 2018 of being a member of ‘a dominant [group] of judges within the judiciary, mostly consisting of the HCoJ members, which has the leverage to influence [other] judges. This, the report said, ‘increases opportunities for corruption’.
The list met criticism from several non-judge members of the HCOJ, opposition parties, the Public Defender, as well as several ruling party MPs, including Deputy Speaker Tamar Chugoshvili and Legal Affairs Committee head Eka Beselia.
As soon as the list was sent to Parliament, Ana Dolidze and Nazi Janezashvili, both non-judge members of the HCOJ, criticised the list for including judges with tainted reputations who they claimed had been associated with politically motivated verdicts in the past.
The two have called for legislative reform to allow the HCOJ to nominate only candidates that gain absolute support in the council, instead of a simple majority.
‘This will ensure that decisions will not be made within the interests of Chinchaladze’s clan and will give the parliament a chance to select worthy candidates’, Janezashvili claimed.
On 27 December, the Georgian Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, a platform of 40 civil society groups, said that the ‘confirmation of the nominated candidates by the Parliament will bring about a further strengthening of clan governance of the judiciary and will make independence of the judiciary an impossible feat for decades to come’.
The Coalition claimed that ‘several judges’ at the HCOJ drew up the list ‘behind closed doors’, instead of waiting for amendments to the law on Common Courts that would reflect recent changes to the Constitution, which would introduce clear procedures for vetting judicial nominees.
On 27 December, three non-judge members at the HCOJ unsuccessfully resisted the lifetime appointment of Levan Murusidze to the Court of Appeals. Murusidze received the votes of 11 out of 14 council member.
Murusidze has been criticised by several civil society groups as being ‘biased’, and has come under fire for controversial rulings including on the Sandro Girgvliani murder case.
Several high-level officials including Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani have expressed disappointment with Murusidze’s appointment. On 28 December Tsulukiani said she ‘didn’t like’ him becoming a judge, especially for a lifetime term.
Support for the ‘clan’
Beselia resigned as head of parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee on 27 December in an attempt to stall the ‘rushed’ confirmation of judges.
Parliamentary Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, who is also the executive secretary of the ruling Georgian Dream party, rebuffed criticisms of the process and hinted that the disagreement might end up with Beselia’s expulsion from the party.
Kobakhidze and other party members insisted that Beselia’s resignation had nothing to do with the confirmation of judges, as her transfer to the post of Deputy Speaker was planned several months prior to disagreements over the list.
Speaking with TV Pirveli on 7 January, Beselia confirmed that her disagreements with party leaders dated back to mid-2017 but insisted it was related to lifetime judicial appointments.
In May 2018, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili returned to frontline politics becoming the Georgian Dream party amidst the intra-party friction, effectively removing Beselia and others from the party’s political council.
On 28 December, Kobakhidze met High Council of Justice chair Giorgi Mikautadze to ‘discuss partnerships in different directions and processes related to forming of the Supreme court’.
The following day, non-judge member of the council criticised their meeting, with Ana Dolidze accusing Kobakhidze of ‘supporting the clan’.
‘We all realise that we have won a big battle this week. We have avoided a significant threat aiming at the state as the clan of judges attempted to seize the justice system’, said Dolidze, elaborating that ‘in this tense situation in the HCOJ, the fact that Kobakhidze only met Mikautadze means that he supports the clan’.