TBILISI, DFWatch–Three influential European organizations criticize Georgia for carrying out a reform that doesn’t do enough to depoliticize the Prosecutor General’s Office.
One of the most important remarks by the Venice Commission, OSCE and the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors in their criticism of a draft bill prepared by the Justice Ministry is that it gives the justice minister the right to become head of the Prosecutors’ Council.
The essence of the reform is that the justice minister will manage the Prosecutor General’s Office through the Prosecutors’ Council. The right to appoint the Chief Prosecutor will be distributed among this council, the government and parliament.
According to the Constitution, the Prosecutor General’s Office is a part of the Justice Ministry system and justice minister is its head. Since amending the Constitution is a complicated procedure and the ruling coalition is unable to muster enough votes for such amendments alone, the Ministry of Justice instead prepared a draft bill, claiming that the new principles would solve existing problems.
According to the draft, members of the Prosecutors’ Council will be the justice minister, as head of the council, two MPs, elected by a majority of votes, two members presented by civil society, who will be selected by parliament, and four members elected by prosecutors.
The council will be entitled to approve a candidate for chief prosecutor, present a proposal to dismiss the chief prosecutor, or launch disciplinary proceedings against the chief prosecutor and his or her deputies. The council will not interfere in how the prosecutor makes use of his power.
The justice minister will name and present a candidate for chief prosecutor to the council, for it to approve. The council will have to approve the candidate by a two thirds majority and then introduce him to the government and parliament. The chief prosecutor will serve for a term of six years.
A chief prosecutor will be dismissed if he commits a crime or in severe case of disciplinary violation, however the prosecutor appointed for such special cases will have to prepare a report about the case and present it to the council.
If two thirds of council members agrees that a crime may have been committed by the chief prosecutor, it will ask the government to approve the dismissal of the chief prosecutor and send it to parliament, which will have to decide by a majority of votes whether to dismiss the prosecutor.
If either the government or parliament decides not to dismiss the chief prosecutor, the issue is taken off the agenda.
Prosecutor General’s Office, which is the major investigative body today, has frequently been a subject of criticism due to the reason that its activity always raises questions about the government’s interests. There are still questions surrounding cases against former government officials.
The office was a subject of criticism during the previous government as well, when this government was an opposition, promising voters that they would reform the body, but the coalition did not reform it after coming to power in 2012.
The current law says that it is the prime minister who appoints or dismisses the chief prosecutor, who is head of the Prosecutor General’s Office. This has made some suspect that the chief prosecutor may be working to further the interests of the government or the prime minister personally.
The government claims that the new initiative was prepared to avoid political influence, but the three international organizations think the draft bill doesn’t promote such a goal.
In response to the criticism, the justice minister on Tuesday said that the role of the justice minister will be reduced after the reform, but she didn’t specify how the role will change with the new model. She said she will talk about this at the end of the week.
The National Movement, which now is the parliamentary opposition, thinks it is a ‘formal amendment’, claiming that the Prosecutor General’s Office will remain a politicized body.
The president’s administration also has number of remarks about the draft bill.