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President objects to judges

RESOLUTION of the long-running saga to appoint Slovakia’s next general prosecutor seems no closer after President Ivan Gašparovič on January 28 lodged an objection to the composition of the Constitutional Court senate that is due to hear an appeal by the general prosecutor-elect, Jozef Čentéš. Čentéš is appealing against Gašparovič’s decision, made at the beginning of this year after an 18-month delay, not to appoint him, despite his election by MPs on June 7, 2011. Čentéš is also seeking a preliminary injunction to block the election of an alternative general prosecutor. He said he would not comment on the objection lodged by the president.

RESOLUTION of the long-running saga to appoint Slovakia’s next general prosecutor seems no closer after President Ivan Gašparovič on January 28 lodged an objection to the composition of the Constitutional Court senate that is due to hear an appeal by the general prosecutor-elect, Jozef Čentéš. Čentéš is appealing against Gašparovič’s decision, made at the beginning of this year after an 18-month delay, not to appoint him, despite his election by MPs on June 7, 2011. Čentéš is also seeking a preliminary injunction to block the election of an alternative general prosecutor. He said he would not comment on the objection lodged by the president.

“I will wait for the decision of the Constitutional Court on my proposal for a preliminary injunction and a decision on the merits of the issue,” said Čentéš, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
Gašparovič’s objection follows an earlier objection lodged by Čentéš, and upheld by the court on January 24, against two judges originally slated to hear his complaint, on grounds of potential bias.

Meanwhile, on January 29 another deadline elapsed for parliamentary parties to submit candidates for a proposed vote to choose an alternative general prosecutor, with Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška, who had previously set a deadline of January 18, not specifying what his next step would be.

The opposition parties have said they will not propose any candidate since they consider Čentéš to have been properly elected, SITA reported. The Constitutional Court ruled in October 2011 that the method used to elect Čentéš was correct.

Earlier this year, the Council of Prosecutors, which represents the interest of prosecutors under the General Prosecutor’s Office, picked Jaromír Čižnár as the most suitable alternative candidate for the top prosecutor job, but Čižnár has since said he will not confirm his candidacy until he learns whether the Constitutional Court intends to issue a preliminary injunction based on Čentéš’ complaint.

Now the Constitutional Court will look into the president’s objection and if it is accepted, a third senate will be formed to decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction, and decide on the merits of the complaint filed by Čentéš.

Presidential objections

Gašparovič objected to two members of the panel, Ján Luby and Ladislav Orosz, who replaced Milan Ľalík and Peter Brňák after Čentéš’ earlier complaint was upheld.

Čentéš lodged his objection to Brňák and Ľalík on January 9, after the Constitutional Court assigned his original motion to a three-member senate that included the pair, as well as Marianna Mochnáčová as chair and Brňák as judge rapporteur.

A senate comprising Justices Lajos Mészáros, Sergej Kohut and Juraj Horváth accepted the objection on January 24 and excluded Brňák and Ľalík from ruling on Čentéš’ original complaint. The case was entrusted to a second senate composed of Mochnáčová, Luby and Orosz.

Luby and Orosz last year attached a dissenting opinion to a decision made by the Constitutional Court which granted the president new powers to refuse to appoint parliament’s choice as general prosecutor.

In that verdict, delivered on October 24, the court said that the president of Slovakia must “deal with” a proposal of parliament to appoint a new general prosecutor based on the 150th article of the Slovak constitution, and that if the candidate was elected in accordance with the law the president must either appoint him/her “within an appropriate time-frame” or inform parliament of his refusal to do so. According to the Constitutional Court, the president can refuse to appoint a candidate only if the candidate does not meet the legal requirements for the office or there are “grave reasons” that cast doubt on the candidate’s ability to perform the job in a way that does not harm the authority of the institution of general prosecutor.

Constitutional Court spokesperson Anna Pančurová did not reveal any details about Gašparovič’s objection and by the time The Slovak Spectator went to print the Presidential Office had not stated why Gašparovič objected to Luby and Orosz.

Though at first Čentéš did not specify the names of the judges that he had objected to, the Sme daily reported that the general prosecutor-elect may have objected to Brňák for being a member of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), a political party in which Gašparovič was formerly a leading member, between 1990 and 2002, and Ľalík for serving as head of the civil department at the Justice Ministry at the time the current president of the Supreme Court, Štefan Harabin, was minister. Ľalík’s son recently wrote on the inepravo.blogspot.com website that the decision not to appoint Čentéš “fulfils the limitations of the Constitutional Court’s ruling”, Sme wrote.

The term of the last general prosecutor, Dobroslav Trnka, expired in February 2011, but it took until June of that year for parliament to elect Čentéš as his replacement. However, Gašparovič then refused to appoint him, despite the Constitutional Court ruling in October 2011 that his election had been constitutional.

Gašparovič has come in for extensive criticism from the opposition and political analysts for failing to appoint Čentéš, and then for presenting what they say are insufficiently strong reasons for formally rejecting him. After a failed special session that the opposition parties wanted to convene in order to discuss Gašparovič’s conduct, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Most-Híd, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) prepared a Constitutional Court lawsuit to impeach Gašparovič for what they allege was his intentional violation of the constitution. They submitted their proposal to parliament on January 17.

Paška has not yet set a date to debate the presidential impeachment proposal, which was signed by 44 deputies from all five opposition parties. The law gives Paška 30 days to do so, SITA reported.

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