THE CASE of the state versus Supreme Court Chairman Štefan Harabin, which has been dragging on since 2010, will probably move to Strasbourg once again.

Harabin is planning to sue Slovakia at the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) after the Constitutional Court refused to renew the proceedings in his disciplinary case concerning a Finance Ministry audit of 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 Finance Ministry auditors access 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”, SITA 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 salary cut.

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.

ECHR representative sees a problem too

Slovakia’s representative at the ECHR, Marica Pirošíková, expressed concerns over the Constitutional Court’s decision not to renew the proceeding in Harabin’s case, as recommended by the ECHR ruling from November 2012.

Pirošíková, in her statement published on the Justice Ministry’s website on December 9, noted that the most appropriate form of reparation in cases like Harabin’s is the renewal of the proceedings in front of an unbiased court.

She cited several cases which the ECHR has dealt with, including a lawsuit by a Swiss company advocating animal rights, which was not allowed to broadcast a TV commercial. The company succeeded before the ECHR when it complained (for the second time) that the proceeding in the respective case had not been renewed. This could now happen in Harabin’s case, Pirošíková’s statement suggests.
There are “serious questions” now as for the individual measures taken in the Harabin vs. Slovakia case, the statement reads.

“We remind that the case is under the watch of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which controls the fulfilling of commitments that spring from the ECHR verdicts, and will not cease to watch [the case] until [the commitments] are considered fulfilled,” Pirošíková wrote.
The Committee of Ministers might even visit the Constitutional Court in connection with the case, Pirošíková informed.

Fine for Harabin cancelled

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

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 gain,” 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. Harabin is planning to seek financial compensation in the lawsuit he is planning to file with the ECHR.

“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.

Harabin at court

Harabin files lawsuits often, particularly libel suits against the media. The Via Iuris non-governmental association recently published a calculation in which it asserts that Harabin has won over €314,000 in the last eight years, of which €150,000 came from the General Prosecutor’s Office in 2013 and over €164,000 from newspapers between 2006 and 2009. The highest sum he received was in 2006 when he was awarded €99,581 from a suit against the Pravda daily.