RIVAL KOHUT LODGES COMPLAINT WITH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ABOUT UNFAIR VOTING SYSTEM

Harabin's re-election as chief justice in doubt

SUPREME Court Chief Justice Štefan Harabin may not lead the court for another five years if the Constitutional Court rules that the rights of Harabin's competitor were breached in the elections that returned Harabin to the post.
On December 20 the Judicial Council (SR) re-elected Harabin, who is also head of the SR, to lead the court for a second time by the closest possible margin, with the new term starting February 12 this year.
But Harabin's only rival in the vote, Justice Sergej Kohut, lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court January 13, saying that he had been at a disadvantage because Harabin was entitled to vote in the elections, while he could not do so, not being a member of the SR. Although he has not confirmed it, observers suspect Harabin used his ballot to vote for himself, thus swinging the election in his favour.

SUPREME Court Chief Justice Štefan Harabin may not lead the court for another five years if the Constitutional Court rules that the rights of Harabin's competitor were breached in the elections that returned Harabin to the post.

On December 20 the Judicial Council (SR) re-elected Harabin, who is also head of the SR, to lead the court for a second time by the closest possible margin, with the new term starting February 12 this year.

But Harabin's only rival in the vote, Justice Sergej Kohut, lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court January 13, saying that he had been at a disadvantage because Harabin was entitled to vote in the elections, while he could not do so, not being a member of the SR. Although he has not confirmed it, observers suspect Harabin used his ballot to vote for himself, thus swinging the election in his favour.

The Slovak constitution guarantees equal access to and conditions for running for elected functions, a right Kohut claims was breached in the SR vote.

The Constitutional Court, a national authority for resolving legal disputes, refused to comment on Kohut's claim, but promised to prioritise the issue, bearing in mind that Harabin's current term in office expires February 11.

Until a verdict is delivered, however, it remains unclear whether new elections would have to be organised if the Constitutional Court agreed that Kohut's rights had been breached. Some legal experts believe that such decisions made by the Constitutional Court are only binding for the future and have no impact on past events.

Ján Drgonec, head of the parliamentary constitutional committee and former Constitutional Court judge said: "Legal effects [of Constitutional Court verdicts] do not influence the past but only [have an effect] on the future, from the moment the verdict is issued onward."

On the other hand, Juraj Majchrák, deputy chief justice at the Supreme Court believes that in the case of a verdict in Kohut's favour, the SR law that enabled Harabin to vote for himself would have to be revised and new elections would have to take place.

According to Majchrák there would not need to be any dramatic changes made to the SR law.

"[The law] would only have to stipulate that no candidate for the position of Supreme Court chief justice would be allowed to participate in the vote," Majchrák said.

Member of the SR Štefan Detvai, who nominated Kohut for the December elections, thought Kohut's complaint to the Constitutional Court was justified, and added that he saw the vote as proof that the law on the Judicial Council had to be changed.

But Drgonec insisted that the legal loophole that enabled Harabin to vote for himself in the December elections was known to all involved months before the vote, and that the rules could easily have been changed a long time ago to avoid the current situation.

After the elections in December, Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic did not hide his disappointment about Harabin's re-election, describing it as "bad news" for the judiciary.

Harabin has a long record of disputes with current and past justice officials, and is widely criticised for obstructing reform in the judiciary. He has resisted a ministerial order to introduce a computer-driven system to his court, despite the fact that the system has helped to considerably reduce case backlogs in other courts.

As well as enabling judges to spend more time on decision making by taking a lot of case-related bureaucracy off their shoulders, the system increases transparency, by randomly distributing the judicial agenda.

"I want the law to be respected and the Supreme Court to be transparent and open," Lipšic said.

Neither Harabin nor Kohut would talk to the media after Kohut's complaint was filed, stating they wanted to wait for the Constitutional Court ruling before commenting.

Should the Constitutional Court fail to issue a verdict in Kohut's case by February 11, Majchrák would temporarily take over at the helm of the Supreme Court.

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