Unfilled Vacancies for Judges – New Liabilities Have Not Changed the Situation 

More than 100 positions for judges are still vacant.

A sufficient number of judges is necessary for the provision of fast and effective justice and the proper functioning of the judicial system, meaning determining the number of required vacant positions, and filling them afterward with relevant candidates.  

Before June 2023, in case of the vacancy or premature termination of a judge's term of office, the Organic Law of General Courts of Georgia determined the term for the start of the selection process of candidates only for the position of Supreme Court judge, and did not envisage the date of announcing selection process for the judges of district (city) and appellate courts (the article: Why Dozens of Vacant Positions of Judges are not Filled?)

On the 13th of June 2023, the amendments to the Organic Law initiated back in November 2022 by the Legal Issues Committee of the Parliament came into force.  One of the positive initiatives was the determination of the term for announcing the judicial competition in the first and second instance courts. According to Article 35 (2) of the Organic Law, now the High Council of Justice of Georgia shall, not later than three months before arising of a vacancy of a judge of the district (city) court, or not later than one month after arising of a vacancy, announce the commencement of the selection procedure for the vacant positions of judges. 

It is noteworthy that by the time the above-mentioned norm came into force, there had already been more than 100 judicial vacancies within the system.

The norm is not clear enough and its context does not distinctly define whether its jurisdiction covers already existing vacancies or whether the High Council of Justice is responsible to announce the contest to fill the existing vacancies for judges immediately after the norm came into force. The new legal rule is in force for couple of months already (since 13th of June), however, the High Council of Justice has not announced a judicial selection contest yet.

Regardless of how the High Council of Justice interprets the legal norm, it violates the obligation in both cases:

  1. If the new norm envisages timely filling of the vacant positions existing before it came into force, the HCoJ had to announce the competition for more than 100 vacant positions existing before the 13th of June 2023. In our opinion, this would be a relevant practice to fill the judicial system with new personnel. Otherwise, the question to what purpose the legislative change serves arises;

  2. If the new norm covers the vacancies raised after its coming into force only, the violation from the HCoJ id obvious in this case too: on 2nd of December 2023, judicial authority was terminated to Tamar Chuniashvili, the Civil Chamber judge of Tbilisi Court of Appeals, due to reaching the retirement age, and mentioned position became vacant. The HCoJ had the liability to announce the selection contest for the vacant position of Tbilisi Court of Appeals judge no later than 2nd of September 2023. The Council has not announced any competition for the position. 

25th of November 2022 was the last time a competition for selection of district (city) court judges was announced when an unprecedentedly low turnout of those willing to become a judge was recorded. More particularly, the competition was announced for 76 vacant positions, while the total number of applications did not exceed 21 (the article: Judgeship as a less desirable position).

When the overloading caused by the high flow of cases is one of the major problems in judicial system, the lack of judicial personnel significantly harms the citizens' right to quick and effective justice and hinders the functioning of the system. In such a situation, determining the number of required vacant positions in the court and timely staffing with a sufficient number of judges is critically important. The High Council of Justice does not even try to fill the vacant positions and encourages crisis in the judiciary.

All of this once again confirms that only changing the legal norms, without appropriate implementation, does not provide a solution to the existing problem. 

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Author: Keti Gachechiladze