US and EU 'disappointed' with appointments to Georgia's Justice Council
The US Embassy and EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell are disappointed that on October 31, two current members of the High Council of Justice were replaced by other judges.
On October 31, the Conference of Judges elected two new members of the High Council of Justice: Paata Silagadze and Giorgi Goginashvili.
They replaced Tamar Oniani and Teya Leonidze, who voluntarily resigned from the council.
Silagadze and Goginashvili are considered members of the so-called “clan of judges”, and both are appointed for life as judges of the Tbilisi Court of Appeal.
Statement of the US Embassy
According to the embassy, it is regrettable that the judiciary has not yet been able to elect Council members democratically.
The US embassy statement also said the judges’ decision came at a time when public attention was diverted to municipal elections.
“Only one candidate was nominated for each vacancy. The announcement of vacancies created as a result of early resignation was made shortly before. There was no opportunity for consultation, nor for the participation of a wide range of qualified candidates, nor for significant participation of civil society and relevant stakeholders”, the statement said.
The US Embassy believes that the process was neither competitive nor transparent. They also stated that the judiciary had missed an opportunity to demonstrate transparency and have so far failed to elect their members through a competitive and democratic electoral process.
“When the Conference of Judges rushes to make important decisions without competition and transparency, it shows that it does not want to implement reforms that should increase transparency, accountability and public confidence in the appointment process, candidates and the High Council of Justice. Many qualified members of the judiciary who have been excluded from the process due to the closed system deserve better”, the statement said.
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Reaction of the EU
EU Ambassador Carl Harzell notes that the appointment of judges took place the day after the second round of elections – just four days after the publication of the conference agenda.
“The appointments were hasty, opaque and uncompetitive. Consequently, they run counter to Georgia’s commitments to enhance independence, accountability, quality and confidence in the judiciary under the EU-Georgia Association Agreement.
This is the fifth step back in the judicial system and the rule of law in Georgia over the past four months”, Harzell said.
He also stressed that the July 12 ruling, according to which six judges were appointed to the Supreme Court for life, was assessed by the OSCE / ODIHR as “lacking in integrity, objectivity and trust”.
In addition, according to the ambassador, this largely led to the suspension of aid of 75 million euros due to the lack of reforms in the justice system.
“To date, there has been no credible investigation into the violence against more than 50 journalists and activists on 5 July and the punishment of the organizers.
These events prove once again that starting an ambitious judicial reform process with broad, inclusive and multiparty participation is imperative, and that the political parties of Georgia have made this commitment”, Harzell said.
According to him, the European Union repeats its appeal to the Georgian authorities to fulfill their obligations related to reforms in the sphere of justice, for the sake of the interests of the citizens of Georgia and relations with the European Union.
The EU also reiterates that, while committed to supporting reforms in Georgia in line with the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, EU assistance will continue to depend on progress made in implementing key reforms.
In April 2020, the European Commission adopted a € 3 billion macro-financial assistance package for partners to tackle the socio-economic problems caused by the pandemic.
Under the terms of the EU, if the Georgian government was obliged to carry out the necessary reforms in the judicial system, management, finance and energy to Georgia receive a second tranche of 75 million euros of EU assistance in early 2021 as part of a macro-finance package.
Later, Giorgi Kakauridze, First Deputy Minister of Finance, admitted that there was a risk that the EU’s macro-financial assistance in the amount of 75 million euros would not be transferred at all, since the money was tied to reforms, one of which was judicial reform. According to Kakauridze, the EU was critical of the reform to the judicial system.