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Public Defender of Georgia Publishes Special Report on the Process of Selection of Supreme Court Judges



In the four-month period from May 6 to September 6, 2019, the Supreme Court of Georgia conducted the process of selection of Supreme Court judicial candidates, which was monitored by the Public Defender's Office within its mandate. The monitoring results and recommendations are included in the special report we are now publishing.

Monitoring showed that the selection of Supreme Court judges in a fair manner and in accordance with high standards was substantially affected by many shortcomings. The process ongoing in the High Council of Justice failed to convince an objective observer that the most competent and conscientious candidates were submitted to the Parliament of Georgia.

The High Council of Justice failed to properly check the candidates’ compliance with the legislative requirement, according to which, they should have at least master’s degree or an equivalent academic degree in the field of law. Compliance with the aforementioned legislative requirement should have been checked by the High Council of Justice at the initial stage of the process, before registering candidates. However, it has been found out that both the list of 50 candidates and the candidates submitted to the Parliament include persons, master’s degrees of which (in the field of law) are either not properly certified, or raise serious questions.

The controversy between the two groups of members of the High Council of Justice was evident during the selection process of Supreme Court judges. Throughout the process, including during the secret ballot and evaluation of candidates, the Public Defender's Office was able to identify 10 ballots/evaluation forms that were characterized by a high degree of coincidence. The agreements between the members of the Council once again highlighted that internal independence of the judiciary still represents a significant challenge in Georgia. Under these circumstances, the secrecy of ballot and evaluation impedes public oversight over the process, which is of no value and, on the contrary, is harmful.

Only 12 members of the High Council of Justice evaluated the candidates after the interviews. There were cases when the difference between the points granted by the 12 evaluators was quite large (from 30 to 57). In addition, with regard to several candidates, the minimal and maximal points were close to each other (from 3 to 10).

Analysis of the results of the ballot conducted to select 20 out of 50 candidates showed that 10 members of the Council gave a high number of votes to 20 specific candidates, no one received an average number of votes, while 18 candidates received the lowest number of votes. This strategy of the 10 members of the Council, their move not to give an average number of votes to any candidate, and the coincidence with the votes of other members of the Council, eliminated the possibility of the candidates to qualify for the next stage.

Under the mentioned rating system, when points are not substantiated, we cannot say for sure that the higher the points are, the more competent the candidate is, but even under these circumstances, the decision of the 10 members of the Council, who granted high points to a candidate, but did not vote for him/her, or on the contrary, gave low points to a candidate, but voted for him/her, is surprising. The 10 members of the Council made such a decision with regard to 4 candidates.

At the end of the report, the Public Defender recommends the Parliament to make legislative amendments so that to eliminate arbitrariness of decision-making by the High Council of Justice, as well as to ensure a high standard for avoiding the conflict of interest, open voting, substantiation of decisions and an opportunity to appeal against the decisions.
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