MEMBERS of Slovakia’s parliament will no longer enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution after September 1, the day Slovakia celebrates the 20th anniversary of the adoption of its constitution – if the political parties in parliament stick to the commitment they announced to the public on May 16. After September 1 a member of parliament will be protected from prosecution only for statements made in official parliamentary forums and for his or her votes in parliament while “in everything else there will be equality in the face of the law”, stated MP Radoslav Procházka, a member of the special committee established to draft the constitutional change that will scrap the immunity currently enjoyed by MPs.
To actually make this change, which has failed on several occasions in recent years, Slovakia’s constitution must be amended, something that requires the support of at least 90 MPs. Procházka told journalists that the amendment to the constitution would be submitted to parliament during its June session.
MPs’ immunity from prosecution for misdemeanors such as traffic offences was cancelled in early February this year.
“It is a step ahead that makes the hands of the police freer in penalising everyone equally,” stated Tibor Gašpar, the newly-appointed president of Slovakia’s Police Corps, as quoted by the Sme daily.
Under the proposed constitutional amendment prosecution bodies will still be required to seek the approval of parliament to take an MP into pretrial custody. If police directly witness and apprehend a member of parliament while committing a crime, the police must notify the speaker of parliament and the head of parliament’s mandate and immunity committee immediately after arresting the legislator, the SITA newswire reported.
Procházka, who represents the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) in parliament, said the amendment is an important measure which will prevent members of the executive or judicial branches from influencing members of parliament during important votes.
“The benefits prevail over the risks,” Procházka stated, as quoted by Sme.
The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) parties, in opposition, originally sought to remove the immunity held by judges as well. But both political parties agreed to support the proposal laid on the table on May 16 and judges will retain their immunity from criminal prosecution if the amendment is passed.
MP Miroslav Beblavý from the SDKÚ told public broadcaster Slovak Radio that his party would vote to end the immunity of legislators for criminal offences and that there should be discussion about eventually removing immunity from judges.
Pavol Paška, the speaker of Parliament from the Smer party, said this issue might be discussed in the future.
“First, we have agreed on the need to introduce a few more changes to the constitution from the technical point of view, but this will need to be based on broad political agreement,” Paška stated, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “We will certainly discuss the status of judges, but I respect the principles of democracy and it would be inappropriate to discuss them [judges] in absentia.”
Paška also said the agreement was “99.9-percent final” and that Smer party will back the constitutional amendment.
Still 150 seats in parliament
The number of MPs sitting in Slovakia’s parliament will remain the same after parliament decided on May 16 not to advance to a second reading a constitutional bill submitted by SaS. The bill would have reduced the number of lawmakers from 150 to 100.
The bill attracted the support of only 18 MPs, 11 from SaS and seven members of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) party.
SaS had urged lawmakers to pass the measure by citing the country’s difficult economic situation and the need for MPs to contribute more to consolidation of the country’s public finances, TASR wrote, with SaS estimating the savings in salaries for MPs and their assistants at €13 million over a four-year period.