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Prosecutors forced to open up by new law

IN ORDER to increase public confidence in the judiciary it will also be necessary to shine more light on the prosecution process, Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská argued earlier this year. The 76 MPs who voted on June 2 for a revision to the law on prosecution seem to agree. They have helped Žitňanská move one step closer to her declared goal: bringing more transparency to the prosecution process, while opening it up to greater public control.

IN ORDER to increase public confidence in the judiciary it will also be necessary to shine more light on the prosecution process, Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská argued earlier this year. The 76 MPs who voted on June 2 for a revision to the law on prosecution seem to agree. They have helped Žitňanská move one step closer to her declared goal: bringing more transparency to the prosecution process, while opening it up to greater public control.

The revision requires prosecutors to publish their decisions on the internet and also bans the same person from performing as general prosecutor for more than one term. It also means that prosecutors will no longer be appointed by the general prosecutor but instead be picked through a public competition by a six-member selection committee consisting of three people from the prosecution and three from parliament, according to the SITA newswire.

The revision has opponents, for example the opposition Smer party, which argues that it opens avenues for interference in the prosecution department. Smer also claims that the legislation hands too much power to the justice minister.

But the minister rejected these claims. “Neither the ministry nor the justice minister will, based on this draft law, have any authorities making it possible for them to interfere in any way in the operation of the prosecution – neither generally in the system, nor in relation to particular cases,” Žitňanská said.

She argued that the prosecution needs to be under public control, because a system which is closed in on itself and functions without any control mechanisms cannot function well.

“The goal of the proposal is that the prosecution is no longer a mysterious institution behind those heavy doors; instead it allows us to see how prosecutors are selected and how they reach decisions,” she said.

Among other things, the revision restricts the possibility for so-called negative orders, which in the past have made it possible for senior prosecutors to order their junior colleagues not to bring charges or order them not to take someone into custody, and has even allowed them to completely halt a prosecution. From now on, if top prosecutors take a case away from a subordinate they will have to publish a written explanation for their decision.

While Žitňanská is confident that the deputies have approved a good law, Peter Muránsky of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) said that he would sign a proposal challenging the law at the Constitutional Court. Muránsky, who first criticised the law and then voted for it, said that he would wait for the decision of the presidential office. He believes the law might be at odds with the constitution, SITA reported.

Smer leader Robert Fico accused the ruling coalition of politicising the prosecution in a way which is unprecedented even by the standards of the 1950s. As an example he cited giving the justice minister the authority to issue binding orders in relation to the prosecution.

Acting General Prosecutor Ladislav Tichý said that he is disappointed by the adoption of the law since in his words the prosecution had “done the maximum to persuade deputies that passing the revision in such a form would not be a good thing”. Tichý said that it is unpleasant that the development of the law on prosecution has been linked to the ongoing process of selecting the general prosecutor, TASR reported.



Bumpy road to open elections



Tichý himself has become closely involved in that process. The ruling coalition went to considerable lengths over the past six months to turn the secret method of voting previously used by MPs to select the general prosecutor into a public vote. But Tichý has now lodged a challenge against the public voting method with the Constitutional Court, in what appears to be another twist in an increasingly complicated and politicised saga. Tichý, who got his job by default when the previous general prosecutor, Dobroslav Trnka, left office in February before MPs were able to choose a successor, has also requested that the court issue a provisional ruling that would ban MPs from holding a public vote.

Speaker of Parliament Richard Sulík meanwhile announced that a public vote for the position would nevertheless take place, inviting deputies to submit the names of candidates by June 10 at 20:00. Sulík was quick to add that his call for candidacies was not intended to pre-empt the Constitutional Court’s decision. The court assigned the case to a judge on June 1, meaning that a ruling could take as little as a week.

“I do not consider the reasons in Mr Tichý’s proposal to be serious enough to stop us from holding the vote,” Sulík said, as quoted by the Sme daily.

Nevertheless, according to Sme, Sulík has not ruled out the possibility of a secret ballot, adding that it is still possible to hold the vote in secret if 15 deputies request it and parliament backs them.

Trnka, whose bid to retain his position has been supported by the opposition Smer party, failed to get enough support in a secret ballot of MPs held on May 17. The ballot was a re-run of a previous secret vote held in December which was ruled unconstitutional by the court after a challenge by Trnka.

By rejecting him, MPs apparently heeded a threat by Prime Minister Iveta Radičová to resign if Trnka, about whom she has expressed strong reservations, were to prevail.

Trnka has not announced yet whether he will run again for the post in an open vote. Fico said that if the vote on the general prosecutor was secret, his Smer party would run Trnka again as its candidate. Fico claimed that Sulík had made a mistake in announcing a vote without waiting for the verdict of the Constitutional Court, TASR reported.

The candidate of the ruling coalition is prosecutor Jozef Čentéš.


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