Coalition’s Address to the High Council of Justice

Honorable members of the High Council of Justice, 

Hereby, the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary appeals to you with regard to the legislative amendments introduced to the process of judicial appointments as the time of enacting these amendments is approaching. 
As you are aware, upon the swearing in of the President Elect, a constitutional norm requiring a lifetime appointment of judges will come into force. Yet another amendment made to the Law of Georgia on Common Law Courts will come into force at that time too, which envisages the judicial appointments for a trial period of three years and the monitoring of their activity during that period. It is also well known that after the enactment of those amendments (presumably on November 19), the High Council of Justice plans to hold a session to appoint judges in line with the new rule (for a three-year trial period).  

As you may be aware, over the past few years, the Coalition has been actively advocating for the idea of systemic reformation of the process of judicial selection and appointment. This issue remains topical for the Coalition. Therefore, to ensure an objective and substantiated process of selecting and appointing judges, the Coalition has started drawing up a concept and drafting legislative amendments with the aim to propose an alternative to the effective rule to the legislative, judiciary and executive branches in the nearest future. 

Moreover, you are familiar with the Coalition’s vision about the enactment of the norm on lifetime appointment of judges and applying it to practicing judges as well as about the amendments to the Law on Common Law Courts adopted by the parliament. We believe that they will not be conducive to the process of ensuring the independence of individual judges and the court system in general.

The Coalition welcomes the decision of the parliament of Georgia to draw up procedures and criteria of monitoring the activity of judges until 1 May 2014. We believe that the term indicated by the parliament in the transitional provision will allow all stakeholders to create an agreed, smooth and principally correct system. However, we think that a precedent of the High Council of Justice appointing judges according to the new rule after the enactment of amendments will have a serious adverse effect on the attempt of improving the court systems as well as prospects of the development of court system. 

Hence, we deem it important for the Council to ensure a fair balance between all existing legitimate demands and expectations and to avoid additional risks to the court system. 

Coalition members keep a close watch on the activity of the Council and consequently, are aware of all those difficulties inherent to the process of appointing judges in the Council. It is clear that on the one hand, courts need sufficient number of judges to ensure smooth operation of the system, but, on the other hand, in the existing situation it is crucial to ensure that the system is staffed with dignified cadres and insured against possible risks. 

However, there is one additional fair expectation in this difficult and complex process towards the High Council of Judges, a collegial body – not to use means harmful for the judiciary in the long run to achieve its legitimate purpose. Trial appointments is one such mean. The expediency of the use of this mean is further questioned by the fact that lawmakers have yet to determine the procedure and criteria of monitoring activity of judges. Consequently, the process of monitoring will be completely ambiguous for judges appointed pursuant to the new rule as well as for the society. One must also consider that those judges who succeeded in competitions announced in past months were appointed for the term of 10 years, as mandated by those competitions, and not for a trial period of three years. 

Therefore, we believe that the High Council of Justice should refrain from appointing judges for a three-year trial period. However, if the Council believes that the appointment of new judges is necessary to ensure the operation of the court system, Council members must agree on that before the constitutional norm and applicable amendments come into force and the mechanism of trial appointments is enacted.