Venice Commission Issues Opinion on Georgia's Judicial Reform
The Venice Commission has released its opinion on the Organic Law of Georgia on Common Courts in response to a request from Shalva Papuashvili, the Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, dated 22 November 2022. The Commission has assessed the current set of amendments as part of the ongoing reform of the judiciary of Georgia, and has issued four opinions between 2019 and 2022 on this matter.
The draft amendments under examination have been prepared by the Georgian authorities as part of legislative measures required by the EU in the context of Georgia's application for EU membership. The European Commission has recommended that Georgia adopt and implement a transparent and effective judicial reform strategy and action plan post-2021 based on a broad, inclusive, and cross-party consultation process.
The Venice Commission reiterates the importance of achieving an independent, impartial, and well-functioning judiciary. Only an independent judiciary can render justice impartially based on the law and prevent the abuse of power. The document notes that it is of vital importance for the rule of law that there is public trust in the proficiency of the judiciary to operate in an independent and impartial manner.
The Commission notes that key recommendations it has previously made remain to be addressed, such as addressing the issues of judicial corporatism and self-interest in the High Council of Justice, circumscribing the wide powers of the High Council of Justice to second or transfer judges without their consent, revising the procedure for suspension of judges from office, and restricting the grounds for disciplinary liability of a judge related to the expression of opinion to manifest violations of the duty of political neutrality.
According to the document, the Commission views the draft provisions regulating access to court decisions as positive, but it recommends that the process be shortened and simplified, and that access be provided for past decisions as well as for future ones.
The Commission acknowledges that the draft amendments are only the first step in a comprehensive strategy for judicial reform in Georgia and that they do not provide for a holistic reform of the judiciary, including the High Council of Justice. The Commission welcomes the statement of the Georgian authorities that they wish to take its recommendations into account and recommends that they do so without any unjustified delay.