Judicial Reform is Necessary to Obtain Candidate Status
On June 17, the European Commission published individual opinions on Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. The Commission supports granting EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova immediately, and to Georgia -- only after certain conditions are met.
According to the European Commission’s Opinions, based on which the European Council will make final decisions, Ukraine should fulfill seven conditions, Moldova ten conditions, and Georgia twelve conditions. Judicial reform is one of the main priorities among the conditions imposed on Georgia.
The Commission recommends 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;
- ensure a judiciary that is fully and truly independent, accountable, and impartial along the entire judicial institutional chain, also to safeguard the separation of powers;
- ensure the proper functioning and integrity of all judicial institutions, especially the Supreme Court; address any shortcomings identified including the nomination of judges at all levels;
- undertake a thorough reform of the High Council of Justice and appoint the High Council's remaining members;
- all the above-mentioned measures need to be fully in line with European standards and the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
In addition, on 20 June 2022, the Venice Commission issued an Opinion on the Amendments to the Organic Law of Georgia on Common Courts of 30 December 2021, stating the amendments significantly undermined the guarantees of the independence and freedom of expression of individual judges. The Venice Commission largely shares the critical assessments of problems in the Georgian court system that were made by civil society over the years and emphasizes that such criticism should be taken seriously when assessing the context of judicial reforms.
The Commission criticizes the non-inclusive, accelerated, and unsubstantiated adoption of legislative changes, as well as their content. The Venice Commission notes that the authors of the draft law failed to provide justification for the amendment’s accelerated adoption, legitimate objectives for its changes, or the necessity of the amendments. Moreover, according to the Opinion, it is possible that increased authority of the High Council of Justice in the Georgian context can have a chilling effect on judges’ independence and freedom of expression.
We believe that the Venice Commission’s Opinion, critical statements made by local and international actors, and the conditions outlined in the European Commission’s opinion, indicate the need for fundamental justice sector reforms. Such changes are critical considering the ongoing highly important processes associated with European integration, because the justice sector reforms are a key prerequisite for the success of these processes.
Considering all the above, we call on the Parliament of Georgia:
- To acknowledge the dire state of the court system and express a firm political will to comply with the European Commission’s requirements;
- To promptly amend the legislative framework deteriorated because of the changes of December 30, 2021;
- To implement all justice system-related legislative processes with the broad involvement of the public and judges, and in close cooperation with the Venice Commission.
 The European Commission recommends to Council confirming Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia's perspective to become members of the EU and provides its opinion on granting them candidate status, Available at:https://bit.ly/3n8hviB.
 Opinion on the December 2021 amendments to the organic Law on Common Courts, adopted by the Venice Commission at its 131st Plenary Session (Venice, 17-18 June 2022), CDL-AD (2022)010-e Georgia, Available at:https://bit.ly/3tSfb3a
 Ibid, paragraph 61, 81(4).
 Ibid, paragraph 14, 33.
 Ibid, paragraph 67.