Parliament should not go beyond the recommendations of the Venice Commission during constitutional amendment process
Signatories to this statement are reacting to the process of constitutional amendments whose declared purpose should be reflection of the recommendations of the Venice Commission regarding constitutional changes of 2017. However, draft constitutional amendments submitted to the parliament reveal that this process goes beyond the initially determined aim and includes such changes which do not serve the purpose of reflecting recommendations of the Venice Commission. Moreover, the content of the newly initiated amendments is problematic and unprepared. The most problematic issue is the planned amendment of Article 18 regarding freedom of information, which substantially deteriorates existing constitutional standard. Amendment related to the composition of the High Council of Justice is also unsubstantiated and unprepared.
It should be noted that none of the above mentioned issues has been reflected in the initial text of the constitutional amendments and they were revealed at the last meeting of universal public discussions which was attended only by the representatives of the constitutional bodies. These amendments have neither been mentioned in the text of the explanatory memorandum.
From the initial stage of the work on constitutional amendments society expected that the changes prepared by the members of the parliament were related to the recommendations of the Venice Commission and would not go beyond the aim of reflecting those recommendations in the Constitution. Unfortunately, there is an attempt of enacting such amendments whose content has not been known in advance and the prior discussion regarding expected consequences of these changes has not been held.
The risk of deteriorating the standard of freedom of information in Article 18 of the Constitution was created by the initiative revealed by the Minister of Justice at the last meeting of universal public discussions. This initiative aims to expand the grounds based on which access to public information will be restricted. As it is known, part of the members of the parliament do not share the content of the initiated change. Today the issue of specifying the content of the amendment was raised during parliamentary discussions. However, the final version of the constitutional provision is unknown to the public at this stage.
Furthermore, the parliament considers amendments to the article related to the High Council of Justice, according to which the status of the secretary of the High Council of Justice will be determined by the Constitution. Moreover, the Constitution will determine the rule for appointing the secretary as well as establish the 4-year tenure of the members of the High Council of Justice. Initiator of this amendment is the current secretary of the High Council of Justice himself. It should be noted that the justification of this change is neither included in the minutes of universal public discussions nor in the explanatory memorandum of the bill. This further demonstrates that constitutional amendments related to the judicial system are uninformed, fragmented and unsystematic. Taking into account the functions and role of the secretary of the High Council of Justice, determination of his status at the Constitutional level can not be considered as the step towards strengthening the independence of the judicial branch and the system, which gives rise to the thought that another interest might be hidden behind this amendment.
We consider that additional initiatives added in the process of constitutional amendments are unprepared and unsubstantiated and do not serve the purpose of strengthening constitutional standards and institutes. Therefore, we urge the Parliament of Georgia not to go beyond the scope set at the beginning of the process and consider only those amendments which serve the aim of taking into account the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)
Transparency International Georgia
Open Society Georgia Foundation
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)