Slovakia to get new court

THE CREATION of a Specialised Criminal Court to replace the Special Court – ruled unconstitutional in a Constitutional Court judgement on May 20 – got the green light in the Slovak parliament on June 18 after all the opposition and Smer party deputies present voted in favour of a law establishing it.

THE CREATION of a Specialised Criminal Court to replace the Special Court – ruled unconstitutional in a Constitutional Court judgement on May 20 – got the green light in the Slovak parliament on June 18 after all the opposition and Smer party deputies present voted in favour of a law establishing it.

Thanks to the new law, the Specialised Criminal Court will take on the agenda of the old Special Court, which until now has held hearings in cases of organised crime and high-level corruption. The new court’s competences will go beyond those of the Special Court: it will also hear cases of 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.

Prior to the plenary voting on the law Smer and opposition MPs in the parliamentary committee on constitutional and legal affairs approved a change to the draft so that bonuses of Specialised Criminal Court judges will be double the average salary in Slovakia instead 1.3-times, as originally proposed.

Smer MPs, led by Prime Minister Robert Fico, proposed the draft despite objections from coalition partners the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS).

HZDS deputies and Justice Minister Štefan Harabin were leading forces behind the drive to have the original Special Court dissolved. In the parliamentary ballot most HZDS MPs abstained. Only Zdenka Kramplová, a former agriculture minister who is currently on bad terms with HZDS leader Vladimír Mečiar, supported it, saying that she was convinced the Specialised Criminal Court could ensure the continuity of the court.

During discussion of the draft Mečiar accused Fico and the deputies who supported it of dishonouring the Constitutional Court and acting unconstitutionally in parliament, the SITA newswire reported.

Harabin said the draft fulfilled his requirements, with one exception – it will not be part of the general judiciary system. He wanted the court to be an independent criminal court, but a branch of the Regional Court in Banská Bystrica, with a separate building and a special protection regime.

Most SNS deputies abstained from voting, with two voting in favour of the draft. Party leader Ján Slota had announced earlier that his party would probably not support the Specialised Crime Court.
According to Mečiar, 30 deputies are already willing to appeal to the Constitutional Court against the law on the Specialised Criminal Court. He said they were only waiting to see the final version of the law which is passed, the TASR newswire reported.

Robert Fico, who presented the draft to parliament since the justice minister, Harabin, opposed it, was left to rely on the opposition in order to get the draft approved. However, that did not stop him from criticising opposition politicians, SITA wrote.

“Gentlemen of the opposition, we are not doing this for you, forget about it,” he addressed the MPs. “We are doing it for the Constitutional Court, we are doing it for the courts in Slovakia to function properly. It’s neither the first nor the last time that our opinions differ from the opinions of our coalition partners, but, unlike you, they are not so false and they tell us straight away that they have a different opinion, we consult together and agree to take an acceptable decision.”

Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) deputy Daniel Lipšic, who as Justice Minister initiated the establishment of the Special Court, said earlier that he was willing to compromise on any draft if it helped to ensure the continuity of the court’s activities.

“Passing this law will be a victory of hundreds of thousands people who were disturbed by the cancellation of the Special Court,” he said during the parliamentary discussion, as quoted by SITA.
Among other changes, the court’s judges, who are expected to be drawn from the ranks of the former court, will not have bodyguards as a matter of course, only on request. And the condition requiring judges to hold a ‘Top Secret’ clearance from the National Security Authority (NBÚ) in order to be eligible will be scrapped for the new court.

The new law now awaits the signature of the president, after which it would enter into force on the day the Constitutional Court officially announces its ruling on the unconstitutionality of the Special Court.

By Michaela Stanková with press reports

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