Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská (Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ)) has recalled several chairs of district and regional courts. Among those ousted are: Bratislava Regional Court chair Gabriela Šimonová; Prešov Regional Court chair Igor Burger; Bratislava III District Court chair Richard Molnár; Košice II District Court chair Vladimír Kotus; Kosice I District Court chair Andrej Mitterpak; and Košice-okolie District Court chair Jozef Pribula. All the judges are considered close associates of Supreme Court Chairman Štefan Harabin.
The move was enabled by an amendment to the Judges and Judicial Assistants Act that came into effect on May 1. Unlike in the past, the judges dismissed cannot challenge the decision in court. Žitňanská explained at a news conference on Tuesday why she had decided to use her new powers to dismiss 14 heads of regional and district courts, saying that it came as a result of her ministry's long-term plans. "We have opened up the justice sphere… and part of these progressive moves is to secure competent and responsible court managements," the minister said in the wake of the recalls, which affected the regional courts in Bratislava, Banská Bystrica, Prešov, Trenčín and Žilina, and district courts in Banská Bystrica, Bratislava III, Čadca, Dolný Kubín, Košice-okolie, Košice I and II, Veľký Krtíš and Žilina.
"I've made my decision based on three criteria. The first was the evaluation of courts' performance; then the criterion of following all the rules in scheduling work plans, especially the random distribution of cases to judges. The third criterion was the level of trustworthiness of judges," explained the minister. "To be credible, justice must be independent, and must also be seen to be independent. If a court is headed by somebody who has been publicly reported to be linked to facts that erode the perception of being trusted, then this could mean that justice as a whole may not be perceived as trustworthy and independent, and then it's a problem for justice as such," she commented, as quoted by the TASR newswire. Žitňanská said she had discussed the performance of the judges in question with them about a month ago, and the ministry then published the results of the respective analysis on its website.
Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská from press reports
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11. May 2011 at 10:00