FOLLOWING a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that the right of Štefan Harabin, the president of Slovakia’s Supreme Court, to a fair tribunal was violated by a disciplinary proceeding against him in 2011, he has now filed a criminal complaint against three Constitutional Court justices who dealt with his case.
In his complaint, Harabin alleges that Justices Ladislav Orosz, Juraj Horváth and Sergej Kohut committed an abuse of power, a criminal offence under Slovak law. Harabin argues that the decision-making of the three judges may have been politicised.
“Judges cannot comply with the political wishes of politicians when making decisions, even if they used to be politicians before,” Harabin said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. He did not explain which ‘politicians’ or ‘political wishes’ he was referring to, other than to cite as an example the past career of Orosz, who was an MP for the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) between 1998 and 2002. “Judges who do not respect laws and the Slovak Constitution cannot wear judges’ robes and should return to political parties,” Harabin stated. Harabin himself was nominated by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) to be justice minister between 2006 and 2009, during which time he was embroiled in several controversies.
Harabin alleged that by failing to recuse themselves from the senate that was deciding the disciplinary case against him, which resulted in him being fined 70 percent of his annual salary, they committed a criminal offence. The Sme daily reported Harabin’s complaint on March 2.
The original disciplinary proceeding against Harabin was launched after he repeatedly denied access to Finance Ministry auditors to the Supreme Court from August 2010 onwards. Harabin at the time repeatedly asserted that “only the Supreme Audit Office [NKÚ] wields the right to supervise the Supreme Court”. He restated this position at his disciplinary hearing at the Constitutional Court, suggesting that a ministerial audit of the Supreme Court “is not possible unless one intends to talk about the independence of courts”, the SITA newswire reported.
Then finance minister Ivan Mikloš had previously fined Harabin €33,000 for refusing to grant the auditors access. Mikloš argued that by blocking the ministerial audit it could be argued that Harabin was abusing the independence enjoyed by judges and the courts.
In November 2010, the then justice minister, Lucia Žitňanská, lodged a disciplinary proceeding against Harabin, proposing the highest possible fine: a one-year, 70-percent cut to his salary.
Harabin and ECHR
The basis of Harabin’s legal complaint against Kohut, Horváth and Orosz is a ruling delivered by the ECHR in Strasbourg in November 2012 in response to a complaint he filed against Slovakia. According to the ECHR ruling, the Slovak Constitutional Court, when judging the proceedings initiated by Žitňanská, did not go to sufficient lengths to consider challenges to the senate’s impartiality, noting that it included judges who had been excluded from other proceedings against Harabin.
Harabin argued that Kohut had declared himself not to be impartial and had excluded himself from a tribunal in a previous proceeding involving Harabin. However, when the disciplinary proceeding initiated by Žitňanská was assessed he did not rule himself out, Harabin noted.
Harabin demanded €51,299 in pecuniary damages and another €100,000 in non-pecuniary damages in the ECHR case, but the court decided that Slovakia should pay Harabin only €3,000 plus tax, and costs of €500, TASR wrote.
Speaking about the latest development, Žitňanská, who is now an opposition MP, said that it is a perverted and immoral situation when the top representatives of the Slovak judicial system are filing legal complaints against one another.
“This situation really evokes the impression that the foundations of the rule of law have been deeply shaken,” she told TASR. “What are normal people supposed to think? How are they supposed to trust in the Supreme Court or Constitutional Court?”
Constitutional Court President Ivetta Macejková will respond to the complaint only after she has read it, said court spokesperson Anna Pančurová, as reported by TASR.
With press reports
11. Mar 2013 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani