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Repeat elections for Supreme Court chief in April

THE POST of Supreme Court Chief Justice remains vacant after the Constitutional Court ruled that the two men running for the post in December were not given equal treatment in the elections.
When the previous incumbent, Štefan Harabin, was reelected to the post, his only competitor, Sergej Kohut, complained that unlike himself, Harabin had a right to cast a ballot in the elections as he was a member of the Judicial Council (SR), which decides personnel matters in the judiciary. That vote is believed to have helped Harabin gain the margin required to win.
The Constitutional Court decided February 19 that Kohut's right to equal access to elected posts was breached. The SR must now organise new elections, and Harabin has already said he will consider running for the post again.


HARABIN may rerun for Supreme Court chief justice.
photo: TASR

THE POST of Supreme Court Chief Justice remains vacant after the Constitutional Court ruled that the two men running for the post in December were not given equal treatment in the elections.

When the previous incumbent, Štefan Harabin, was reelected to the post, his only competitor, Sergej Kohut, complained that unlike himself, Harabin had a right to cast a ballot in the elections as he was a member of the Judicial Council (SR), which decides personnel matters in the judiciary. That vote is believed to have helped Harabin gain the margin required to win.

The Constitutional Court decided February 19 that Kohut's right to equal access to elected posts was breached. The SR must now organise new elections, and Harabin has already said he will consider running for the post again.

At a meeting of the SR on February 24, the council agreed on changes to the body's schedule, according to which new elections "should be carried out in April 2003," said the SR's deputy chairman Juraj Hrabovský.

The SR says it will prepare a draft revision to the law on the SR in order to eliminate the loopholes that enabled the unequal conditions under which the two candidates ran for the top post three months ago.

Reacting to the Constitutional Court ruling, Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic said it was a "victory of constitutionality". However, opposition politicians and Harabin's supporters expressed disgust at the verdict, accusing the ruling coalition of interfering in the independence of the judiciary.

"The events are a proof that the executive is trying to control the judiciary," said Karol Džupa, an MP for the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) on February 23.

Although the two SR members who participated in the February 19 court hearing said they respected the Constitutional Court's verdict, both of them criticised the authority's ruling and the fact that the case had ever been brought.

The SR's Ján Drgonec said the whole affair was "absurd", while his SR colleague Peter Brnák said he thought the court's explanation for its decision was as unconvincing as if somebody was "trying to deep-fry snowballs".

Both lawyers had argued earlier that the December elections were carried out in accordance with laws then in effect, although Drgonec had admitted that an existing legal loophole had put Harabin in an advantageous position.

The Constitutional Court's spokesman, Štefan Németh, insisted that the court had come to its conclusion by looking at the facts only, and dismissed the charge that politicians had tried to influence the Constitutional Court.

"I absolutely rule out such a possibility. When the full text of the ruling is published, experts will be able to see that the arguments are purely factual," Németh said.

Harabin, who acted as the court's chief justice until February 11 this year, became a regular justice at the court after his term of office expired. He said he would not comment on the Constitutional Court ruling until he had had a chance to study the explanation of the verdict in detail.

Harabin has a notorious record of bad relationships with the current and past justice ministers, mainly due to his perceived opposition to judicial reforms and his reluctance to introduce to the Supreme Court a computerised system of judicial-agenda distribution that would increase efficiency and transparency.

Shortly before the December vote, Harabin was also criticised for approving bonuses worth hundreds of thousands of Slovak crowns for judges at his court, of which two nominated him to run for the top post.

Investigators are currently dealing with the alleged bonus-rigging case, but Harabin told The Slovak Spectator in January that it had been construed to discredit him in the run-up to the elections, and that the bonuses he approved to some Supreme Court judges had been deserved.

Until the new chief justice is elected, the court's deputy, Juraj Majchrák, will run the institution. He is planning to continue reforms at the court until a new chief justice takes over, and two weeks ago he agreed to implement the electronic agenda-distribution system.

Majchrák, who recently admitted that he would consider running for the position himself, said that he was going to call a meeting of the court's justices to agree jointly "on our common candidate" for the top job.

"After all, this will be our new boss," he said.

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