TBILISI, DFWatch–Opposition parties in the former Soviet republic of Georgia warn that the independence of the courts will be weakened after the ruling party overturned the president’s veto against a judicial reform bill.
The so-called third wave of judicial reform was vetoed by president of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili on January 24, as he found the document incomplete, but the majority Georgian Dream overturned his veto February 8.
In his proposed changes, based on recommendations by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, the president argued that the legislative package, which will amend the Law of the General Court, includes some provisions which contradict to the principles of judicial independence and the impartiality of judges.
The president’s most important objections against the bill concerned the procedures for electing the chairperson of the courts and that the bill will do away with the three year trial period for new Supreme Court judges
The president’s parliamentary secretary Ana Dolidze explained more specifically why the president saw the bill as a threat to judicial independence at a press conference on January 24. There are three sets of remarks, she explained.
The first set is about giving judges more autonomy, the second aims at offering judges more security and independence, and third is related to technical issues.
In particular, the president is against the Council of Justice appointing the head of the Supreme Court, and instead leaving that up to the judges themselves, which in the president’s view would ensure more independence of the courts and promote self-governance of judges.
The president also recommended to prevent one and the same person from simultaneously occupying the posts of the chairperson of the court and the chamber, he called for abolishing the three-year trial term for Supreme Court judges and that the maximum number of Supreme Court judges should be specified by the law. Margvelashvili also wanted clearer and more specific rules for collecting and distributing information about candidates during a competition to replace a judge.
But the ruling party, Georgian Dream Democratic Georgia (GDDG), which also comprises the majority in parliament, was discontent about the president’s decision and decided to use its power to overturn his veto two weeks later.
Speaker of the Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze said the reforms carried out by legislators have had unprecedented significance for the justice system and that the president’s veto took the focus away from that fact.
“It is regrettable that this veto somewhat overshadowed the importance of the reform,” Kobakhidze said.
This was the fifth time Margvelashvili has used his veto powers to block a decision by parliament.