The Council of Europe’s
advisory body for legal affairs, Venice Commission, may appoint a liaison
officer in Georgia as country’s new authorities prepare for launch of a
process for major constitutional overhaul.
“Mr. [Davit] Usupashvili
[the parliamentary chairman] and I agreed on the possibility to appoint a
liaison officer in the constitutional commission of the parliament in order
to take contacts with the Venice Commission and simplify procedure of
consultation,” Gianni Buquicchio, President of the Venice Commission, said
in Tbilisi on January 31.
During his visit to Georgia he met President Saakashvili; Prime Minister
Bidzina Ivanishvili; parliamentary speaker Davit Usupashvili; as well as
lawmakers from President Saakashvili’s UNM party and PM Ivanishvili’s
Georgian Dream coalition, civil society representatives and chairmen of
supreme and constitutional courts.
In February the Georgian
plans to initiate setting up of a special commission
that will work on major amendments to the constitution.
constitutional amendments are already initiated – one on
Parliament’s location and another
one about presidential powers under which President
Saakashvili retains all of his current powers, except of the one which
allows him to sack the government and appoint new one even if the Parliament
refuses to confirm President-nominated cabinet
Venice Commission President
Gianni Buquicchio said that there was “a serious need of improvement” of
Georgia’s constitution; he, however, said that in-depth constitutional
changes should not be made hastily and it should be done with largest
possible consensus within the society.
Buquicchio, however, also
noted that there were “urgent” issues in the constitutional that required to
be addressed soon.
“I understand that for the
sake of stability of the government and the Parliament after the last
parliamentary elections it is necessary to change the constitution in order
to limit powers of the head of state [the President] to dismiss the
government and appoint new government without the authorization of the
Parliament,” he said after meeting with PM Ivanishvili on January 31.
Speaking at a news
conference later on the same day he also said that he did not believe that
President Saakashvili had an intention to dismiss PM Ivanishvili’s
President Saakashvili’s UNM
party also plans to initiate a constitutional amendment. On January 31 UNM
offered to introduce a new clause in the constitution that would make
pro-Western foreign policy course binding for government.
Asked about this
initiative, the Venice Commission President said: “I don’t think that such a
decision should be in the constitution.”
The most recently the
Venice Commission was requested by Georgia to give its opinion on two
issues; one is on the
law on amnesty, which has already been passed and
enforced after the Parliament overturned presidential veto and which also
granted amnesty to 190 inmates recognized by the Parliament as political
prisoners. Venice Commission President said that “unfortunately” this bill
was passed by the Parliament without waiting for the Commission’s
Another one on which the
Venice Commission will prepare its conclusions is the bill on courts, which
reform of High Council of Justice, a body overseeing
judicial system with the authority to appoint or dismiss judges; among other
major changes, the bill also offers to exclude the President from the
process of appointing members of the High Council of Justice.
This bill, which was
initiated by the Justice Ministry, has been passed with its first reading in
December; the UNM is against of the bill and President Saakashvili has even
threatened to veto it. The UNM called on the authorities
to wait for the conclusions from the Venice Commission. Although initially
the government was pushing for the bill to be confirmed by the Parliament
soon, it was then decided to hold back the process.
“I appreciate that the
Parliament and the Minister of Justice decided to wait until the opinion of
Venice Commission is adopted and delivered,” the Venice Commission President
One of the key issues that
trigger controversy over the bill is the term of termination of authority of
the sitting members of the High Council of Justice. According to the bill,
term of all the currently sitting members of the Council, including of those
members who are judges, will be terminated upon the election of new members
under the new rules.
The Venice Commission
President spoke mainly positively about proposed changes in the rule of
electing judicial council members; he, however, stressed on the issue of
termination of authority of sitting members.
“Only problem that should
be avoided is violation of rule of law in the sense that [the term of]
present members of the Council should not be terminated before the natural
expiration of their term, unless the reason for what they were included in
the Council – the qualification, changes,” Buquicchio said.
Some local legal advocacy groups have also called on the authorities to
amend the bill in a way that would terminate the authority of only those
members of the Council who are appointed by the President and the Parliament
and to keep those judges as members of the Council who had already been
elected by the Judicial Conference, a self-governing body of the judiciary.
But the Justice Ministry
was against, arguing that process of election of judges in the High Council
of Justice by the Judicial Conference was in itself not democratic, thus
those judges elected through the existing rule should also be replaced.
Currently only the Chairman of Supreme Court has the right to nominate
candidates for council membership and the Judicial Conference has to choose
among the candidates nominated by the Supreme Court Chairman; ballot during
the Judicial Conference is not secret. The proposed bill plans to change
these provisions too.
A group of experts from the
Venice Commission, which are working on drafting conclusions on the law on
amnesty and bill on judicial council, will visit Georgia next week.