INTIMIDATION is how several judges regard the disciplinary proceedings launched against some among their ranks, especially those who have criticised Supreme Court president Štefan Harabin and the general state of Slovak justice. But now Harabin himself is complaining of intimidation. In his case this refers to the attendance by foreign diplomats at the public hearings of disciplinary senates. Harabin went as far as to ask the sole candidate for the post of vice president of the Supreme Court, Daniela Švecová, during her presentation on April 7, how she views the presence of foreign diplomats at public hearings.
The chorus of critics of the present state of the judiciary has been growing.
Last year an open letter was signed by 15 judges who warned about what they called abuse of disciplinary proceedings against certain judges, while 105 judges earlier signed the “Five Sentences” petition to initiate a serious debate about the state of the judiciary in Slovakia. Earlier this year, the initiative For an Open Judiciary emerged in response to what its founders called political intervention, lack of transparency and the misuse of disciplinary proceedings, among other issues.
Diplomats from developed democracies have always closely monitored developments affecting the integrity of the Slovak judiciary.
Recently, the disciplinary proceeding initiated against Supreme Court justice Peter Paluda, who had filed a criminal complaint against Harabin, attracted representatives from the embassies of the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark to the courtroom. Foreign diplomats were also present at other disciplinary proceedings, while some also attended the launch of For an Open Judiciary.
Harabin described the presence of diplomats at disciplinary proceedings as “intimidation” of the members of their senates.
“As Foreign Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák has said, Slovakia is not a banana republic,” Harabin said.
Harabin was referring to comments reported in the April 3 issue of the Pravda daily in which Lajčák stressed that diplomats attending judicial disciplinary hearings must remain impartial and that Slovakia is not a “banana republic”. Lajčák also said: “In diplomatic language it means that they want to be informed at first-hand."
This is indeed what the official response of the US Embassy suggested.
“Representatives from our mission, as well as other diplomatic missions, attend public hearings as observers in order to obtain first-hand information about the disciplinary proceedings,” said the US Embassy in Bratislava in memo sent to The Slovak Spectator. “We follow a broad range of human rights issues in Slovakia, including the integrity of the judicial system.”
According to the US embassy, this sort of activity is consistent with the work of diplomats around the world, including in the United States.
Harabin, however, was quoted by Sme and the TASR newswire as suggesting that he had information that the attendance of the British Ambassador to Slovakia at the disciplinary proceedings was a private initiative, not a foreign-political initiative.
“They are not attending the case of Okoličány, but [are attending] the [disciplinary cases of] judges who are releasing Okoličány from custody,” Harabin added, referring to the recent release of alleged Košice gangland boss Robert Okoličány because of procedural errors, despite him facing murder charges.
After Okoličány’s release, the Justice Ministry issued a statement blaming judges for the alleged gangster’s release, without explaining in what specific way the judges were at fault.
"The failure to handle this case proves that disciplinary proceedings against the judges who are suspected of serious failings in the case of Robert O and company are justified , but the proposed penalties are mild," the ministry said.
According to the ministry the judges would have carried responsibility even if such case happens in Austria, Great Britain or other country of the European Union.
"The society would certainly not tolerate it if a criminal of Fritzl type was released," the ministry said in a release.
Harabin also made a reference to Jozef Fritzl, an Austrian man convicted of imprisoning his own daughter in a home-made dungeon and sexually abusing her over a period of 24 years. According to Harabin, if a judge in Austria were to release Fritzl from custody he would not be awarded the Nobel Prize and a Slovak ambassador would probably not attend any consequent disciplinary proceedings.
Harabin went on: “Should we start awarding Nobel Prizes to judges who participate in the release of Okoličány?” as quoted by TASR. “They face disciplinary proceedings just as in any European country.”
In addition to Paluda’s hearings, foreign diplomats including Britain’s Ambassador Michael Roberts and representatives of the embassies of the USA, Canada, Norway and Austria, also attended a hearing against Supreme Court Justice Jozef Kandera on March 17, the Sme daily reported. The disciplinary panel found Kandera guilty of protracted oversight of criminal cases and cut his salary by 15 percent for one month.
Kandera was penalised despite the fact that his bosses had never warned him about his alleged shortcomings. He is appealing against the verdict.
“The judiciary is seriously affected and will recover only with difficulty,” said Kandera, as quoted by the Sme daily. “It was attacked by a virus, which I will not name. We had a virus with the initials H1N1 and these initials are similar.”
Kandera was blamed for procrastinating in four cases, in three of which he had already ruled and two of which pertained to a huge criminal case, that of the so-called “acid gang”, the files for which amount to about 30,000 pages.
The disciplinary senate excused Kandera in these cases, admitting that they were complicated, only to blame the judge for delays in two simpler cases.
12. Apr 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová