THE RULING that overturned Štefan Harabin's reelection as Supreme Court chief justice must surely be welcomed as a step in the right direction.
Several members of the government have expressed approval for the decision of the Constitutional Court to disallow Harabin's appointment, which was made on the basis that he and his only rival were not running under equal conditions. Harabin is a member of the Judicial Council that held the election, and it is widely thought that he cast his ballot in favour of himself. His opponent, Sergej Kohut, had no such opportunity, as he was not a member of the Judical Council.
The Constitutional Court's decision that the election was unfair - which was honoured by President Rudolf Schuster, who has the authority to appoint the Supreme Court chief justice - was proclaimed as further evidence of Slovakia's readiness for the European Union. However, there are many more important problems in the Slovak judicial system that have required urgent attention for the last 14 years. One is the speed, or lack of it, in bringing both civil and criminal cases before the courts.
As a means of settling commercial disputes, the courts have become the last resort among many, including the use of brute, and illegal, force. This sorry state of affairs has encouraged a mafia culture in several ways. The use of thuggery as a collection tool in civil cases has been made to seem almost reasonable, while the judges themselves have become prone to accept bribes to speed the legal process along.
The most serious consequence of the snail's pace of public prosecutions is the perception that underworld figures get away with murder. The fact that major criminals are released back onto the streets - and the ski slopes - does not sit well with the public, nor the outside world. It will take more than the rejection of Harabin's reelection to convince sceptics that the Slovak legal system has been successfully reformed.
3. Mar 2003 at 0:00