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JUSTICE MINISTER'S PROPOSAL REJECTED AS "TOO LATE" BY TOP JUDICIAL AUTHORITIES

Minister wants communist judges thrown out

JUSTICE Minister Daniel Lipšic has said his Christian Democrats (KDH) party will propose a law enabling the sacking of justices who ruled in political trials under the communist regime.
The plan was unequivocally rejected by Slovakia's top judicial authorities, who argued that the law, if passed, would come much too late.
Historians say that 71,000 people were unjustly sent to prison during communism, while 705 people were executed or otherwise killed by the regime in Slovakia. More than 13,000 people were sent to labour camps.


LIPŠIC has upset Slovak judiciary with plans to oust communist-era judges.
photo: TASR

JUSTICE Minister Daniel Lipšic has said his Christian Democrats (KDH) party will propose a law enabling the sacking of justices who ruled in political trials under the communist regime.

The plan was unequivocally rejected by Slovakia's top judicial authorities, who argued that the law, if passed, would come much too late.

Historians say that 71,000 people were unjustly sent to prison during communism, while 705 people were executed or otherwise killed by the regime in Slovakia. More than 13,000 people were sent to labour camps.

Most of the judges delivering such sentences during the communist era were not held responsible after the regime fell in 1989. The number of judges who left the judiciary in the early 1990s is not known, although Lipšic believes it was negligible.

"Very few people left the judiciary after 1989," he said.

The minister's plan to finally make judges accountable for past actions did not appeal to the country's 1,200 judges, who stood united against the proposal, which would ban a large number of justices from the courtrooms.

Many judges have argued that the proposal is not explicit enough. For example, they say it is unclear how the justices deemed guilty would leave the profession, and who would decide that they should go.

Juraj Majchrák, head of the Slovak Association of Judges and vice-chair at the Slovak Supreme Court, wondered if the measure would ban justices who sentenced people for emigrating to the West.

"If it did, then I would have to go as well. You would probably not find a single criminal court judge who did not deal with such a case at that time," Majchrák told The Slovak Spectator.

"I can tell you that the majority of judges are irritated at hearing this," he said.

But for the KDH, ridding modern Slovakia of the remains of the communist machine is a key priority.

Analysts believe that the KDH's stance stems from the fact that several of the party's leading figures belonged to the anti-communist movement of the 1980s, among them former Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský, who until last year was also head of the KDH.

Lipšic admitted that in order for such a law to be passed by the legislature, it would have to be supported by the KDH's coalition partners. As such, it would be discussed like any other proposal, he said.

"Although it is not part of the cabinet's programme theses, we are considering the proposal," the minister said.

He argued that a similar measure was adopted after the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany in the early 1990s. Judges who had ruled on so-called political cases, in which people were sent to prison for presenting an opinion different from that of the communist regime, were not only banned from working as justices but also blocked from serving as any type of lawyer.

But Majchrák, as well as Ján Hrubala, a well-known human rights lawyer in Slovakia, pointed out that the routing out of judges in Germany took place shortly after the fall of communism.

They said that by waiting so long, Slovakia had missed its chance.

Both thought it was simply too late to raise this issue, more than a decade after the fall of the communist regime.

"It's too late now. It's also strange that for 12 years these judges have been doing their jobs, and now suddenly they would be declared unsuitable," said Hrubala.

Ľudovít Bradáč, chief justice at Banská Bystrica regional court, admitted to the Slovak daily Sme in early August this year that sentencing under communism had been a matter of making big moral decisions.

He added, however, that from a professional point of view, the justices had just been doing their jobs. They delivered sentences that were in line with the law at that time, even though many of those decisions would now be considered undemocratic.

"[It would have been best] if we had acted as Germany did. But I think a proposal like this right now is like shutting the door after the horse has bolted," said Majchrák.

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