Tamar Chugoshvili, leader of Georgian Young Lawyer's Association. (Photo: Mari Nikuradze.)

TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) calls for the Minister of Justice to immediately amend a decree he issued which gives the government the right to change the wording a laws already passed by parliament.

Last week saw an unusual legal manouver in Tbilisi, when the government changed the wording of a controversial law after it had been signed by the president.

Several influential organizations like Transparency International protested against the law, because it seemed to apply what’s called retroactive powers, which means holding someone to account for actions which were legal at the time. Retroactive powers are not allowed by international conventions and the constitution.

A spokesman for the ruling party said the editing had been done only to avoid misunderstandings. Shortly afterwards, justice minister Zura Adeishvili issued a decree which formally gives the government the power to change laws after they have come into power.

His decree gave a body under his ministry – an office and a website called Matsne – the power to make ‘editorial corrections’ to normative acts.

Decree number 158 by the Minister of Justice issued on December 29, 2011, entitles the body called Matsne, which is a record-keeping office making the laws known to the public, to make what is called editorial corrections to normative acts, which means corrections of orthography or punctuation errors.

According to Georgian legislation, normative acts are: the constitution, laws, presidential decrees, parliament’s and the government’s resolutions, ministers’ decrees, and decisions of the central election commission and regulatory commission.

In his decree, however, Adeishvili puts a limit on what kind of changes his staff may make; they may not change the content of the law. This is exactly where most of the non-governmental sector thinks the government stepped wrong. When the campaign finance rules were edited, a significant word went missing from the law. As a consequence, it did no longer have retroactive powers, which was the reason for the vigorous protest from rights group and subject to criticism in a statement from the US embassy.

The minister’s decree has already come under strong criticism from several Georgian experts who say it violates the constitution’s rules about how laws are adopted and changed, including editorial changes.

In a statement GYLA says that it considers it absolutely unacceptable that Matsne has been granted such authority regarding laws adopted by parliament.

GYLA says that no other bodies than parliament should have the right to make even editorial changes to laws adopted by parliament. The constitution specifies that the appropriate time to put the finishing touch on the wording of a new law is at the third hearing in parliament.

The statement further says that the legislative herald, which is what Matsne means in Georgian, responded to the discussion about the minister’s decree and published a brief explanation on its website regarding the issue. It says: “This authority of Matnse doesn’t apply to the publishing of Georgian law texts and other normative acts adopted by the Georgian parliament. The rules for preparing, reviewing and adopting laws by parliament, as well as the rules for publishing them, are defined by the Georgian constitution and by parliament’s regulation, which is an act having law force.”

GYLA claims that Matsne’s explanation differs wildly from the text of the ministry’s decree. According to the decree, the new authority of Matsne applies to all normative acts.

GYLA calls for the Minister of Justice to obey the Georgian constitution, immediately amend the decree of December 29 and not apply Matsne’s new authority on normative acts adopted by parliament.

GYLA also calls for the speaker of parliament to respond to the minister’s decree and protect the constitutional authority of the Georgian parliament.

(Image shows Tamar Chugoshvili, leader of Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association. Photo: Mari Nikuradze.)