NGO assessment of the judge selection competition
The High Council of Justice has completed the competition to select judges that was announced on October 16, 2017. Our observation revealed that despite several legislative reforms the practice of appointing judges has not improved and continues to have considerable shortcomings.
- Of the 84 total candidates registered for the 52 court vacancies, 82 passed the formal examination and moved to the interview stage.At the interview stage, 2 candidates withdrew from the competition, while 1 failed to show up, leaving 79 contestants who were interviewed.
- 28 candidates requested a closed interview, including 3 judge members of the High Council of Justice, 1 former judge member of the Council, a family member of the Council secretary, and an employee of the Council administration. Of these, 14 candidates were appointed as judges.
- 3 candidates unexpectedly withdrew from the competition on the day of the vote. 19 of the remaining 76 candidates failed to satisfy the integrity and competence criteria, leaving 57 candidates.
- Of the 57 candidates 34 were appointed as judges: 15 graduates of the High School of Justice (appointed for a term of 3 years), 1 former judge and 18 acting judges (appointed for life). 18 positions remain vacant.
- 10 of the 15 graduates of the High School of Justice that were appointed as judges had worked as assistants to judges prior to their enrollment, while 2 are administration employees of the High Council of Justice.
Positive assessment is given to:
- The quality of questions asked during interviews has improved
Observation of open interviews revealed that the quality of questions was significantly improved compared to previous competitions. Candidates were mostly asked questions of comparable difficulty. The majority of questions served to evaluate their professional competence; however, candidates also had the opportunity to demonstrate their experience and values.
Negative assessment is given to:
- Requests for closed interviews by a large number of candidates
The fact that 28 candidates requested closed interviews is highly problematic, especially since 14 of these candidates were ultimately appointed as judges (5 graduates and 9 acting judges). Prior to this, as a rule, civil society representatives had the ability to observe interviews, which was the only open stage of the competition for selecting judges. This time, however, the high number of closed interviews has reduced openness as well as public trust toward the whole process.
- Possible cases of nepotism
Especially problematic is the fact that candidates of high public interest with potential risk of nepotism also requested closed interviews. Some of these candidates were eventually appointed as judges: two judge members of the High Council of Justice (Levan Tevzadze, Sergo Metopishvili), a relative of a judge member of the Council (Temur Gogokhia), and an employee of the Council administration (Tina Vashakmadze). The wife of the Council secretary (Maia Kvirikashvili) also requested a closed interview. Open interviews with the above candidates would have enabled the openness of the process, dispelled doubts about the objectivity of the competition, and raised public trust toward it.
- Possible cases of suppression of dissenting opinion
According to existing legislation, 19 of the 76 interviewed candidates who failed to reach the voting stage cannot appeal their rejection. This circumstance creates a suspicion that the Council may have intentionally rejected unwanted candidates prior to the voting stage. This suspicion is strengthened by the incident, whereby one of the interviewed candidates was asked by a Council member to explain a critical comment directed at the Council that the candidate had posted on social media. Another candidate was asked about a legal dispute initiated by their spouse against the Council, which we consider to be irrelevant. In the end, both of these candidates were rejected.
It also became known at the voting stage that one of the candidates, a judge member of the Council Sergo Metopishvili, had requested to recuse a non-judge member Vakhtang Mchedlishvili during his closed interview, which the Council voted to satisfy. No information has been offered about the grounds of this request, giving rise to a suspicion that the request may be related to the subjectively negative attitude held by Council members towards Vakhtang Mchedlishvili.
- Low qualification of candidates
Interviews revealed that the qualification of a large number of candidates was incompatible with the position of a judge. Problems in this regard were related to the familiarity of former and acting judges with the case law and its usage. Graduates of the High School of Justice did not fare any better, indicating that the School may be paying inappropriate attention to teaching human rights and case law. Unsatisfactory qualification of the majority of graduates points to the necessity of reform of the High School of Justice.
Even though 15 graduates of the High School of Justice were appointed as judges through the competition, 10 of them had worked as assistants to judges prior to their enrollment, while 2 are administration employees of the High Council of Justice. This leaves little room for the inflow of candidates from outside the system, which is highly problematic.
- The High Council of Justice must change its decision on allowing candidates to request closed interviews. The procedure for conducting interviews at open sessions must be defined by law.
- A fundamental reform of the High School of Justice must be launched without delay. This reform must ensure the School’s independence from the High Council of Justice, as well as its ability to prepare highly qualified judges.
- The legal right to appeal a rejection during a judge selection competition must be extended to all candidates and not just those who manage to reach the voting stage.
Transparency International Georgia
Georgian Young Lawyers' Association
Georgian Democracy Initiative