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JUDGES DEMAND MORE MANPOWER; JUSTICE MINISTRY IS AGAINST IT

Court delays cost millions

SLOVAKIA's judges think the Justice Ministry should increase their number in order to tackle ongoing court delays.
Slovakia loses millions of crowns per year due to court delays. According to data released recently by the Constitutional Court, the court has already adjudicated some Sk6 million (€150,000) this year in compensations for delays.

SLOVAKIA's judges think the Justice Ministry should increase their number in order to tackle ongoing court delays.

Slovakia loses millions of crowns per year due to court delays. According to data released recently by the Constitutional Court, the court has already adjudicated some Sk6 million (€150,000) this year in compensations for delays.

According to the representatives of the Slovak Association of Judges (ZSS), the only possible way to reduce court delays is to grow the number of judges. The Justice Ministry, however, disagrees.

Judges are proposing at least a temporary increase in their number at the most overloaded courts. According to the ZSS, the boost would be mitigated over time. For example, when a judge retired, a new judge would not take his place. Thus, the number of the justices would gradually go back to present levels.

Richard Fides, spokesman for the Justice Ministry, told The Slovak Spectator that the ministry was "definitely not considering increasing the number of judges".

"Based on population size, Slovakia has enough judges, and we are not planning to increase the state budget to accommodate more judges," he said.

Slovakia employs approximately 1,300 judges. Juraj Majchrák, the president of the ZSS, recently said that 120,000 cases are pending at district courts, with another 13,000 at regional courts.

"Dealing with this volume of cases can only be solved by increasing the number of judges," he said.

The biggest problem facing Slovak courts, according to Majchrák, are old cases. Some of them, on the roster for many years, continue to prevent judges from addressing new agenda items.

However, the Justice Ministry maintains systematic changes in the judicial sector will address the problem.

"The ministry is working on improving this situation. We have put many measures in place that should address the issue. We have made courts in Slovakia more efficient, we have introduced higher judicial clerks [to take the administrative burden off judges' shoulders], we have set up a new Judicial Academy to educate judges, and we have enacted many procedural changes to gradually eliminate excessive court delays," said Fides.

According to the spokesman, these measures are already starting to show results. "Judges are already able to address incoming agenda in a timely fashion," he said.

The old backlog, however, still sits on judges' tables, argues the ZSS. At a press conference on May 12, Majchrák said that judges could handle 30 to 35 cases each month.

In order to eliminate delays, he said, judges would have to almost double their workload, which he considers impossible.

According to ZSS Vice President Jarmila Maximová, the association is also concerned about the constitutionality of a recent Justice Ministry proposal to hold judges liable for court delays.

If the proposal goes into effect, individual judges would be punished with fines if they caused delays. The measure is not effective yet.

Maximová said the ZSS already asked Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič to file a motion at the Constitutional Court to examine whether this law is in line with the Slovak Constitution.

Apart from compensation funds for court delays, businesses are also unhappy with what they say is a slow and ineffective judiciary.

According to an evaluation prepared quarterly by the Slovak Business Association, an ineffective law enforcement and judiciary remains one of the biggest problems facing businesses in Slovakia today.

Fides at the Justice Ministry says that a study of the caseload at individual Slovak courts is being prepared. "Based on the results, the ministry will be able to further address the issue by strengthening some courts that appear to be overburdened. However, we will not create new capacities but rather reapportion existing capacities."

In other words, should a judge retire from an unburdened court, the ministry would nominate his replacement to fill the post at a court with a higher caseload.

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