AMENDMENT TO JUDICIAL LAW TO PROMPT STRICTER ACTION AGAINST JUDICIAL SLEAZE, DRUNKS, FLUNKEYS

Judges' property to be a public issue

LAZY, drunk, and corrupt judges will no longer be tolerated in their posts, and demoting or firing them from service should be made easier by a recently approved legal amendment proposed by the Justice Ministry.
The amendment, which is hoped to increase public trust in the Slovak judiciary, was again passed by MPs on September 19, after an earlier veto by President Rudolf Schuster. In the past, numerous surveys have shown that the public considers the courts to be among the most corrupt institutions in the state.

LAZY, drunk, and corrupt judges will no longer be tolerated in their posts, and demoting or firing them from service should be made easier by a recently approved legal amendment proposed by the Justice Ministry.

The amendment, which is hoped to increase public trust in the Slovak judiciary, was again passed by MPs on September 19, after an earlier veto by President Rudolf Schuster. In the past, numerous surveys have shown that the public considers the courts to be among the most corrupt institutions in the state.

Judges have been defending themselves for years against what they say is an unjust generalisation: that the judiciary as a whole is corrupt. In an attempt to clear their names, some courts even conducted surveys asking parties whether they experienced any corruption in court.

The amended law will, among other requirements, oblige judges to make their property declarations publicly accessible via the internet - a measure that the justice ministry hopes will be a tool for more easily singling out judges who misuse their position for personal gains.

Though those judges asked to comment on this procedure have generally voiced no objections, several have expressed doubt over its effectiveness.

"I have no problems with declaring my property and making it available to the public, but I am not sure whether the measure will help reveal those judges who really gained their property illegally," Anton Lukáč, deputy chairman with the Regional Court in Prešov, said to The Slovak Spectator.

"Those [judges] who accumulated wealth in a dishonourable manner will probably find ways to cover up their illegal property," he said.

Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic was not available to speak to The Slovak Spectator, but Anna Andrejuvová, the ministry's spokeswoman, said that, while respecting judicial independence, the changes in the amendment would ensure the greater accountability of judges in their public posts.

"One of the basic attributes of the judiciary is the independence of judges; however, this must be balanced with responsibility. This is why the proposed legal norm creates conditions for a clearer and stricter punishment of those judges who betray their profession."

The law is expected to enable quicker punishment, demotion, and even the release of those judges who drink on the job, neglect their work - leaving backlogs of unsolved cases - or those who simply delay court action for various reasons, including bribery.

In what some judges see as unnecessary state interference with the independence of the judiciary, the amended law also introduces a new system in the creation of the so-called disciplinary senates, judicial bodies taking disciplinary proceedings against judges who are suspected of breaking the rules of their profession.

Whereas until today the disciplinary senates were composed of judicial officials, the amendment will now enable the justice ministry and the parliament to nominate some members into the senates.

Štefan Harabín, former head of the Supreme Court, told The Slovak Spectator on September 22 that according to international democratic standards, the state's executive power should not be allowed to interfere with judicial matters.

"Any interference by the executive and legislative powers in the judiciary, including meddling with the composition of the senates, is unacceptable and in all democratic states, such interference is rejected in a uniform manner," Harabín said.

According to Harabín, the amendment shows that "the executive power, notably the justice ministry, is aiming at considerably strengthening its influence over courts."

Andrejuvová said, however, that according to her ministry, the so-called introduction of a lay element into the composition of the senates will help to achieve quicker disciplinary action against judges suspected of breaking judicial codes of behaviour and also will ensure against possible corruption or false peer motives in these proceedings.

The spokeswoman said: "The measure aims to achieve more transparency in the decision making of disciplinary senates."

The law, which will take effect on November 1, also presupposes that in the future, people who have been convicted of intentionally committing crimes and those convicted of corrupt behaviour will never be allowed to work in the judicial profession - as lawyers or as prosecutors.

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