THE MUCH-DISCUSSED constitutional amendment introducing fundamental changes to the judiciary as well as the official protection of so-called traditional marriage was passed by the Slovak Parliament on June 4.

The amendment, drafted by the governing Smer party in collaboration with the opposition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), separates the post of Supreme Court President and that of Judicial Council Chairman, the SITA newswire wrote. Of the 128 lawmakers present, 102 voted for the amendment, 18 were against, three abstained from voting and five did not vote at all. All Smer MPs present supported the amendment, together with several members of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) caucus, a portion of the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) caucus and independent MP Alojz Hlina. All Most-Híd and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) MPs present, as well as Ján Mičovský of OĽaNO and some non-affiliated MPs, were against the bill.

According to the approved bill, the Supreme Court chairman will no longer be able to chair the Judicial Council, the TASR newswire wrote. The council’s 18 members will be selected by parliament, the government and the president (three members each), while judges will select the remaining nine members. Judges will lose their immunity from criminal prosecution, as the Constitutional Court will no longer decide on allowing the prosecution of a judge. Approval from the Constitutional Court will still be required when remanding a judge in custody. However, judges will remain exempt from prosecution over their court rulings.

The amending proposal of Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška (Smer) and KDH chairman Ján Figeľ introduces across-the-board security clearances of judges, both for incumbent judges and judicial candidates. A statement on whether a particular person meets the criteria for a judge will be presented by the Judicial Council based on documents by the National Security Bureau (NBÚ). A judge will be allowed to challenge the findings at the Constitutional Court, while the president will have the authority to appoint or dismiss a judge.

Parliament also approved cementing in the constitution a traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The adoption of a constitutional amendment is always a big occasion, as it is difficult to attain a constitutional majority, Prime Minister chairman Robert Fico said on the same day, adding that the bill is a launching pad for reforms in the judiciary and beyond. “Virtually nothing can be done in the judiciary unless the constitution is amended,” Fico said, according to TASR. “We managed to overcome all problems. This is excellent news for all those who have doubts about the Slovak judiciary.” Paška praised the fact that as many as 102 of the 128 MPs present voted for the bill - well above the constitutional majority of 90 legislators.

“The constitutional amendment passed is good progress, but it won’t protect family and marriage in Slovakia from EU rage and court activism,” representatives of the Alliance for Family (AZR) wrote in a statement quoted by TASR. They are now collecting signatures on a petition asking for a referendum on the protection of traditional family. “We appreciate that MPs wanted to something to boost the position of marriage, but alas, they didn’t have the courage to stipulate a very normal issue – that a child needs a father and a mother in adoption. And Fico himself said, after all, that the amendment doesn’t prevent the introduction of registered [i.e. same-sex] partnerships,” AZR’s spokesman Anton Chromík said. He summed up that the amendment is an important symbol, but it doesn’t protect children from what he called many real threats.

LGBTI activist of the Queer Leaders Forum, Romana Schlesinger, called the passing of the amendment one of the nastiest barters in politics since independent Slovakia was established. She told SITA that LGBTI activists plan to file the amendment with the Constitutional Court for scrutiny. “The amendment is neither social, nor democratic, nor Christian,” she opined. “I would say it’s one of the most anti-social, anti-democratic, and anti-Christian things that could have happened,” she concluded, adding that it will have a negative economic impact, as it may cause a mass exodus of LGBTI minorities. “The passing of the amendment goes against the principles of the EU and the western countries which we want to be included among.” CEO of the Iniciatíva Inakosť civic association Martin Macko said, adding that the approved amendment is a sad commentary on the state of democracy in Slovakia.

A lawyer cooperating with the Via Iuris association, Zuzana Čaputová, opined that the amendment was prepared in a very short period of time, without a wider public debate, which harms the whole initiative. “The focus should have been on reconstruction, i.e. making functional the disciplinary judiciary which is a standard tool for taking responsibility,” she told SITA, adding that judiciary changes are necessary, but that this amendment implements them with the wrong tools. Čaputová deemed the across-the-board clearances of judges a wrong step.

Vice-chair of Most-Híd (ex-SDKÚ) Lucia Žitňanská thinks that the amendment conflicts with the principle of open justice. Clearances based on intelligence information, made behind closed doors of the Judicial Council, are a mere illusion of cleaning the judiciary, and not having the capacity to fulfil the goal, she told SITA. She fears that the situation will worsen still.

Political analyst Miroslav Kusý expects LGBTI activists to contest the amendment with the Constitutional Court. He also sees it as an indication of a future coalition of Smer and KDH, he told SITA, adding that it was passed with Smer being a member of the Party of European Socialists, in which many members support same-sex partnerships.

Political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov opines that the amendment is a result of political bartering between Smer and KDH, but does not see it as the basis for a future coalition of the two parties. He added for SITA, however, that a conflict will begin over the interpretation of the amendment to determine whether it will be possible in the future to legalise any form of same-sex partnerships. “Smer thus confirmed that it is formally an EPS member, but its ideas about cultural-ethical issues diverge from standard leftist parties,” Mesežnikov said.

(Source: SITA, TASR)
Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská from press reports
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