The nomination of non-partisan Tomáš Borec, the former chairman of the Slovak Bar Association, to the post of justice minister, prompted a generally positive response back in April. Paradoxically, by the end of the year, Borec became the only minister of Robert Fico’s government whom the opposition had tried (unsuccessfully) to have sacked for what it called his reluctance to support an opposition-initiated parliamentary debate over the critical state of the judiciary, as well as a lack of action to improve this state.
In 2012, mistrust in judicial institutions continued to prevail in Slovakia as demonstrated by a survey published in July by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank which revealed that 37 percent of those polled trusted the Supreme Court, led by Štefan Harabin, while 54 percent said they did not. The perceived lack of efficiency of Slovakia’s legal framework and the state of the judiciary has long topped the list of concerns not only of foreign investors but also of political ethics watchdogs and foreign diplomats serving in Slovakia.
Along with the mistrust, one of the biggest challenges Borec has faced is the large number of anti-discrimination lawsuits by judges. Shortly after taking over, Borec in late April said he was ready to apologise to the hundreds of judges who filed wage discrimination lawsuits since 2007, claiming that their salaries were lower than judges serving on Slovakia’s now-defunct Special Court. Most initiated their claims after the Constitutional Court ruled in May 2009 that the Special Court, authorised by parliament in October 2003 to hear cases of high-level corruption and organised crime, was unconstitutional. Borec, in an interview with Sme on November 22, said that not that many judges had withdrawn their lawsuits. Nevertheless, he added that the number of the lawsuits had dropped since many judges had failed to pay court administration fees.
The Judicial Council, the country’s top judicial body, underwent several changes in 2012.
Before a closely watched election of new members to the Judicial Council in May, Harabin e-mailed every Slovak judge to tell them which candidates he considered worthy of sitting on the body. Of the eight judges elected on May 30, four were on Harabin’s list. The director of the political ethics watchdog Fair-Play Alliance, Zuzana Wienk, in comments to Sme, interpreted the results as a weakening of Harabin’s position within the council.
Nevertheless, in late September, the government, acting on a proposal from Borec, recalled judges Ľudmila Babjaková, Jozef Vozár and Alexander Bröstl, whom the local media described as critics of Harabin, from the Judicial Council, allowing them to serve just over a year and a half of their five-year terms. Žitňanská, who introduced several measures to bring more transparency to the judiciary, said the sackings were politically motivated. She said that the government had replaced three renowned lawyers and people from judicial circles perhaps to compensate for what she called the outcome of elections of council members by the judges themselves earlier in the year.
One of the most controversial court decisions of the year was delivered by the Constitutional Court on October 30, 16 years after one of the most traumatising cases of the mid-nineties, evoking serious concerns about the rule of law and the state of democracy in Slovakia. The court upheld a decision by the Bratislava Regional Court from June 2012, which ruled that the first president of the country, Michal Kováč, must pay €3,319 in damages to the former head of the country’s intelligence agency, Ivan Lexa.
Lexa sued Kováč for statements originally made in 1996, when he was the country’s president, concerning the case of the abduction of his son, Michal Kováč Jr in 1995. The case has never been properly investigated, because after Kováč’s term the then prime minister, Vladimír Mečiar, while acting as president, granted two controversial amnesties covering the case. Kováč publicly blamed the abduction on the SIS and Lexa, saying that he believed intelligence service technology and staff were used in the abduction, directed by Lexa himself.