SUPREME Court Chairman Štefan Harabin is likely to sue Slovakia at the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, after the Constitutional Court refused to renew the proceedings in his disciplinary case concerning a Finance Ministry audit at the Supreme Court.

“But I have to go,” Harabin said, concerning the Strasbourg appeal, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “Not for me, but in order to secure the rule of law here. This could happen to any citizen.”

The original disciplinary proceeding against Harabin was launched after he repeatedly denied access to Finance Ministry auditors to the Supreme Court from August 2010 onwards. Harabin at the time repeatedly asserted, “only the Supreme Audit Office [NKÚ] wields the right to supervise the Supreme Court”. He restated this position at his disciplinary hearing at the Constitutional Court, suggesting that a ministerial audit of the Supreme Court “is not possible unless one intends to talk about the independence of the courts”, the SITA newswire reported.

In November 2010, then justice minister Lucia Žitňanská lodged a disciplinary proceeding against Harabin. The Constitutional Court penalised Harabin, imposing on him the highest possible fine: a one-year 70-percent cut to his salary.

Harabin has now requested that the Constitutional Court renew the proceeding, based on an ECHR verdict that ruled that Harabin’s right to a fair trial was violated by the disciplinary proceeding. According to the ECHR ruling, the Slovak Constitutional Court, when judging the proceedings initiated by Žitňanská, did not go to sufficient lengths to consider challenges to the senate’s impartiality, noting that it included judges who had been excluded from other proceedings against Harabin.

Having stated the violation of the right to a fair trial, the ECHR did not go into details about the matter of the case, and did not say whether or not the Finance Ministry has the right to audit the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, on December 6, the Bratislava Regional Court ruled regarding the fine imposed on Harabin by former finance minister Ivan Mikloš, for refusing to grant the auditors access.

Mikloš found Harabin guilty of a misdemeanour and imposed a fine on him equalling almost €1,000. At the same time, he fined the Supreme Court €33,000. The latter fine was cancelled under the current Finance Minister, Peter Kažimír.

“It's become clear that Mr. Mikloš, as the vice-premier, abused his powers for political struggle,” Harabin told the TASR newswire. “He should be prosecuted and sentenced for this. Otherwise, he can’t talk about the rule of law and order.”

According to Friday’s verdict, the Finance Ministry can carry out audits of public administration bodies, but not the Supreme Court.

In February 2013, the Regional Court already stopped the proceedings once, however, the Supreme Court overruled the decision in July and returned the case back to the Regional Court, TASR wrote.

The verdict is not final, with both sides free to file an appeal with the Supreme Court.

In the lawsuit he wants to file with the ECHR, Harabin is planning to request financial compensation, too.

“Obviously I will request [compensation] in order for this not to repeat again,” Harabin said, as quoted by SITA, adding that he would then donate the money for children’s oncology. He did not specify how much he would ask for. In his previous complaint with the ECHR he sought compensation worth €150,000. The ECHR ruled he should get €3,000, plus €500 to cover court fees.

Source: TASR, SITA

Compiled by Michaela Terenzani from press reports
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