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Ruling coalition split over Special Court

WHILE on May 20 it seemed as if the nation could start counting the final days of Slovakia’s Special Court, which currently hears cases dealing with organised crime and high corruption, now both Prime Minister Robert Fico and the opposition are fighting to save the institution. However, opinions differ over the form the court should take in the future.

WHILE on May 20 it seemed as if the nation could start counting the final days of Slovakia’s Special Court, which currently hears cases dealing with organised crime and high corruption, now both Prime Minister Robert Fico and the opposition are fighting to save the institution. However, opinions differ over the form the court should take in the future.

The prime minister’s ruling coalition partners, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) – whose MPs led the drive to have the court dissolved – and the Slovak National Party (SNS), insist that the Special Court should not exist as a separate institution at all.

As a result of the efforts of a group of 46 governing coalition deputies, the Constitutional Court ruled on May 20 that the Special Court was not established in line with the country’s constitution. The verdict has evoked a wave of concern from lawyers, diplomats and NGOs.

As a response, Fico, who said the Special Court had its place in Slovakia’s judicial system, submitted a draft bill to set up a specialised criminal court to the cabinet on May 27, despite failing to win support from his governing coalition partners at a meeting that took place shortly before. Though only ministers from Fico’s Smer party, the largest in the coalition, voted for the document it will still be submitted to parliament.

On the same day, opposition parties organised rallies in Bratislava and Košice to preserve the Special Court.

Parliament will vote on Fico’s draft bill at its June session in a fast-tracked legislative procedure.

The draft changes provisions concerning mandatory security clearances by the National Security Office (NBÚ) for Special Court judges, and their salaries.

These factors were cited by the Constitutional Court in its ruling as two of the main reasons for finding the Special Court to be unconstitutional.

Special Court judges currently receive a basic salary which is set at 1.3 times that of an MP’s, plus a supplementary salary equivalent to 6 times the average salary in Slovakia. The draft proposes that the supplementary salary be reduced to a level of 1.3 times the average salary. Also, the condition that only judges granted security clearance by the National Security Authority to work with “strictly confidential” documents can serve in the Special Court would not hold for the proposed specialised court.

The new court would also have a wider sphere of activity, including cases involving premeditated murder, subversion involving public procurement and public auctions, falsifying, changing and unauthorised production of money and shares, and abuse of authority by public officials, the SITA newswire reported.

“The draft bill on the specialised crime court in the form it was passed by the government will ensure the objective and the personal continuity, while fully taking into account the finding of the Constitutional Court from May 20,” the chairman of the Special Court, Michal Truban, wrote in a statement for The Slovak Spectator. He added that in this form, the specialised crime court creates space for preserving an institution that will deal with corruption and organised crime.

The HZDS does not share this enthusiasm for the proposed specialised crime court. Justice Minister Štefan Harabin (HZDS), a leading opponent of the Special Court, said he did not vote for the governmental proposal because he wants it to be not an independent criminal court, but a branch of the Regional Court in Banská Bystrica, with a separate building and a special protection regime, TASR reported.

HZDS leader Vladimír Mečiar supports another solution, which counts on the establishment of specialised senates at regional courts.

“If parliament passes the law in the proposed form, we will turn to the Constitutional Court again,” Mečiar said as quoted by SITA. He admitted that if Smer voted with the opposition it would be a problem.

Daniel Lipšic, an MP for the Christian-Democratic Movement (KDH) and a former justice minister who initiated the establishment of the Special Court, called the specialised senates idea just a continuation of the liquidation of the Special Court.

Fico earlier criticised the opposition parties, saying that they had no right to meddle in the Special Court’s affairs since they had prepared the law on the court’s establishment which the Constitutional Court found to be unconstitutional.

“This is a political comment,” Lipšic told The Slovak Spectator, adding that Smer deputies, including Fico, supported the establishment of the Special Court in parliament.

“Besides, the constitutionality of the law wasn’t contested at the time it was passed, but only several years later, after the ruling coalition had exchanged nine of the 13 judges of the Constitutional Court and, following that, filed the complaint to them,” Lipšic said. “So, my question is why the then-opposition did not attack the law immediately in the Constitutional Court. The answer is that no unconstitutionality was there.”

Unlike Fico, who proposed a regular law to establish the specialised crime court, the opposition intended to propose a draft constitutional law in parliament, aimed at making the proposed specialised court conform to the Constitution. In their proposal the opposition MPs wanted supplementary wages for special judges to be double the average salary. They also wanted to keep the obligation to have security clearances in order to be eligible to become a special judge, but to cancel the obligation to renew the clearance every five years, SITA reported.

In order to pass a constitutional law, a qualified two-thirds majority (of 90 out of all the 150 votes) is needed in parliament, while regular laws are passed with a simple majority of the MPs present. To pass a constitutional law, an agreement between the opposition and Smer would be necessary.

Lipšic said he was open to compromises and that the governmental draft bill opens the door for an agreement.

“For me it’s not important whose variant is passed,” Lipšic told The Slovak Spectator. “The important thing for me is that the continuity of the Special Court’s activities will be preserved.”
According to Lipšic, the Special Court should not be subject to a coalition versus opposition fight.

“We can fight with the prime minister and his party about the level of taxes, the second pension pillar and the Labour Code,” Lipšic said. “But the issue of whether in this state the mafia will be better off or the good people will be better off should not be subject to our fight.”

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