TBILISI, DFWatch–The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe is finished preparing its first set of recommendations regarding a draft bill for reforming the Georgian justice system.

Even though the recommendations have not yet been published, both President Saakashvili’s party and the governing Georgian Dream coalition claim it supports their position, although they have opposing views.

The draft was drawn up by Justice Minister Thea Tsulukiani and reflects the Ivansihvili government’s view that in order to reform the court system it is necessary to reduce the power of the leaders of the Council of Justice. This is a body which oversees and has power to discipline judges. It is headed by the chairman of the Supreme Court.

The chairman will be deprived of some of his powers and no longer have the means to control judges, while judges will be able to be independent, an issue about which there are many problems in the country. The new government thinks that the current Council of Justice should be changed and that it should be elected under the new regulations.

However, former government members from the National Movement are against the initiative. Parliament had already started reviewing the bill, but because of resistance from the UNM and a negative campaign, the ruling coalition and the government decided to stop reviewing the bill and to wait for the recommendations of the Venice Commission.

The Venice Commission is an organ under the Council of Europe which analyzes legislative initiatives in its member countries, looks at to what extent they correspond to Western standards, and prepare recommentations. While they were in government, UNM’s members regularly underlined that recommendations from the Venice Commission are not obligatory to fulfill and they focused on the positive parts of their recommendations. But now they emphasize the fact that the new recommendations are contrary to some points in the new bill and do not recommend to implement those specific parts, but the government says that the Venice Commission’s position to the draft is uniquely positive.

According to the opposition members, the justice minister’s draft is beneficial to the political goals of the Georgian Dream coalition, because it will involve the dissolution of the Council of Justice before the members have served out their term. The government and MPs from the ruling coalition claim that the goal of the amendments is to provide real independence of the courts.

The final recommendations of the Venice Commission will be published later, but yesterday, the parties discussed the draft at a session of in Venice, attended by Deputy Justice Minister Alexandre Baramidze, Kote Kublashivli, Chairman of the Supreme Court and MPs from both the main political blocs in Georgia.

Goka Gabashvili from the National Movement on Friday held a briefing after the session, saying that the commission concluded it is unlawful and unjustifiable to change the members of the High Council of Justice through election.

He said the Venice Commission has already finished reviewing issues which Georgia presented to them and just like they’ve been expecting, the commission completely supported their position about court independence and immunity.

“The major thing which the Venice Commission has concluded is that the members of the High Council of Justice should continue [their] work, and that suspending their function before the end of their term is unjustifiable; also it is unjustifiable to allow the law that someone was able to change the chairman of the court system and members of the major organizer body of courts,” Gabashvili said.

He expressed hope that the Georgian government and MPs from the ruling coalition will foresee the conclusion of the commission and will withdraw the draft which is presented to the parliament and then will change the draft by recommendations of the commission.

Deputy Justice Minister Baramidze, who also attended the session on Friday, thinks that the authors of the recommendations are of the opinion that it is possible to elect new members of the High Council of Justice by administrative committee, instead of a conference of judges, which used to elect the members before.

The deputy minister underlined that the first set of recommendations by the commission are positive to the main principles of the justice minister’s draft. He hopes that the final recommendations will be confirmed just like it is now and won’t be significantly changed.

“It is significant to implement effective court reform, which people so much expect,” he added.

Tina Khidasheli, MP from the Georgian Dream who was also present on Friday’s session noted that it was uniquely said that the system, which existed in Georgia before, ‘is not compatible with the democracy and contradicts the constitution.’

“They positively and progressively rate all amendments, which we have proposed,” she added.