DOZENS of public prosecutors officials were removed from their posts after a new law on prosecutors became effective following a two-and-a-half-year delay.

This happened after the Constitutional Court finally cleared a law authored by former justice minister Lucia Žitňanská. The law, which was scheduled to become effective as of October 2011, has been suspended since September 27, 2011 and the court only delivered its ruling in May. The ruling is effective as of August 1, by which time all the deadlines set by the law have passed. As a result, dozens of prosecutor’s offices suddenly lost their leaders.

The General Prosecutor’s Office (GPO) confirmed this for the Sme daily but did not specify how far the problems really go. It is clear that dozens of regional and district prosecutors had to step down as of August 1, and the GPO dissolved the selection commissions and the disciplinary commissions. The prosecutors’ councils, which are self-administrative bodies of the prosecutors, are dysfunctional as well, Sme wrote.

“Despite these difficulties the prosecution fulfils its roles in the scope stemming from the legal order of the Slovak Republic,” GPO’s spokeswoman Andrea Predajňová told Sme.

Most have to go

General Prosecutor Jaromír Čižnár appointed the outgoing prosecutors to serve as interim heads of their offices until the selection procedures are carried out, the TA3 news channel, which broke the story on August 5, reported.

Sme cited the example of Banská Bystrica Region, where both the regional head as well as his both deputies left, along with a number of district prosecution heads. Only four out of 21 prosecution officials in the region are left in their posts.

Only those prosecution officials who were appointed after October 1, 2011, are allowed to remain.

Blocked too long

The amendment to the law on prosecution was passed by parliament in June 2011, and the Justice Ministry expected it would make the work of prosecutors and prosecutors’ offices more transparent. The law landed at the Constitutional Court following a complaint submitted by then-acting general prosecutor Ladislav Tichý, who claimed that the changes would politicise the work of prosecutors.

The amendment reckoned with new selection procedures for the posts of heads of district and regional offices. The ‘old’ prosecution officials would have to step down as soon as a new person was selected to fill their offices, or by February 1, 2013 at the latest.

With the Constitutional Court blocking the law until May 2014, the new selection procedures were not carried out. With the court ruling, the new rules became effective, and thus the prosecutor’s offices heads are by law no longer in charge.

“The Constitutional Court was deciding on this matter for so long that these deadlines specified by the law in its interim provisions have passed, because it was reckoned with the year 2013 and now it is 2014,” Žitňanská told the TA3 news channel on August 5.

Opening up prosecution

The amendment requires, among other changes, that prosecutors publish their decisions on the internet and that a person cannot serve as general prosecutor for more than one seven-year term. The amendment also requires that new prosecutors would henceforth be appointed by a six-member selection committee. This would see candidates reviewed instead of them being appointed by the general prosecutor, as is currently the case. The amendment specified that the selection committee would consist of three members chosen by parliament and three members chosen by prosecutors’ offices.

The court suspended the law in response to Tichý’s multiple objections, including over the new selection procedure, but Tichý was not the law’s only opponent. The now-ruling, then-opposition Smer party also argued that it opens avenues for interference in the prosecution offices, and claimed that the legislation hands too much power to the justice minister.

Smer leader and current Prime Minister Robert Fico at that time accused the then-ruling coalition of politicising the prosecution. As an example he cited giving the justice minister the authority to issue binding orders in relation to prosecutors.

“Smer was not in accord with the open concept, but it got the answer that 80 percent of the changes are not beyond the limits of constitutionality,” Žitňanská told Sme.