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Judges furious over 1999 salary freeze

The Slovak judiciary has expressed dismay at a measure approved in parliament in the small hours of March 23 which freezes the wages of the nation's judges, prosecutors, police and secret service agents.
Arguing that the wages of judges are set by law and not by politicians, Supreme Court Chief Justice Štefan Harabin and Association of Slovak Judges (ZSS) President Pavol Roharik said the measure threatened the independence of judges and violated the law.
Harabin, in a March 24 interview with the daily Práca, said that he felt the decision hurt the independence of the Supreme Court.


Constitutional Court Chairman Milan Čič is among the nation's judges who have disagreed with the government's plans for funding the judiciary.
photo: TASR

The Slovak judiciary has expressed dismay at a measure approved in parliament in the small hours of March 23 which freezes the wages of the nation's judges, prosecutors, police and secret service agents.

Arguing that the wages of judges are set by law and not by politicians, Supreme Court Chief Justice Štefan Harabin and Association of Slovak Judges (ZSS) President Pavol Roharik said the measure threatened the independence of judges and violated the law.

Harabin, in a March 24 interview with the daily Práca, said that he felt the decision hurt the independence of the Supreme Court.

"The decision-making process of the Supreme Court is completely independent, objective and impartial," he said, "but we can't speak of complete independence if someone else controls your financial resources, because that creates economic pressure. And that's a bad situation."

Roharik said that the measure in effect lowered the wages of judges, and was particularly galling since the judiciary were forbidden by law from adding to their salaries by engaging in business.

"This is not a question of freezing wages - it is a matter of lowering them," Roharik told The Slovak Spectator from London on March 24. "It could mean up to 3,000 [Slovak] crowns a month less for judges, which could really hurt those younger judges who are not yet making a full salary."

Roharik explained that according to paragraph 18 of the law on the payment of judges, the salary of a full judge is calculated by the Statistical Office, which takes the average national salary from the previous year and multiplies it by three. The wage freeze, he said, was an open violation of the payment law, in that it put salary decisions in the hands of politicians.

The new law freezes judges' wages from April 1 to the end of the year. Roharik explained that this means that salaries will actually be lower than required by law, since the basis of calculating the 1999 salary would be the 1997 average wage rather than that from 1998.

Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský, for his part, said he sympathised with the judges, and proposed that "the solution may lie in an amendment to the law on court fees."

"Part of these fees would go to the state treasury, and another part for the wages of judges. However, we'll have to work it out with the Finance Ministry," he said.

Call for understanding

The wage freeze was first made public on February 25, when Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda announced the government was preparing the move and begged the judges to understand the economic fix the country was in. The freeze would save the state 200 million crowns, he said.

The Council of Judges, an independent advisory body, answered Dzurinda's appeal with an official letter on March 2, in which the group said it understood the current economic problems the country was experiencing, but said that saving money on judges' wages was unacceptable.

"Judges mustn't and don't wish to be dependent on political expressions and appeals for solidarity and sacrifice," the statement read, "since the function of a judge is not a political function and judges do not and cannot accept the political capital implied in such an appeal."

Against the objections of the Council of Judges, the cabinet approved the wage freeze on March 3, sending the bill on to parliament to be passed. Harabin said that he was particularly angry that the government had not consulted the Council of Judges on the wage freeze, saying that by law cabinet was required to do this on all bills "that affect the position of judges."

"I regret that from the government side, this never happens," he said. "This law proposal reached parliament only in an unofficial way."

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