THE STORY of electing the country’s next general prosecutor cannot possibly have a happy ending, since the process which started more than two years ago has exposed a whole tapestry of ills in Slovak politics, and has seriously contributed to the corrosion of people’s faith in their politicians’ respect for the constitution and the independence of the judiciary from political power.
The way in which Robert Fico and his ruling party Smer on April 30 rushed to amend a law on the operation of the Constitutional Court, with the pretext of solving a deadlock at the highest court, does not offer much hope for a resolution, other than one that appeals only to those who currently run the country.
As a result of the deadlock, only one of out thirteen judges has not been subjected to allegations of bias by either general-prosecutor-elect Jozef Čentéš or President Ivan Gašparovič, who has been refusing to appoint Čentéš for nearly two years since he was chosen for the post by parliament, with Čentéš filing an appeal against the president’s conduct with the Constitutional Court.
The approved amendment calls for the implementation of the doctrine of necessity based on the so-called Bangalore principles of judicial conduct, which makes it possible for judges who are otherwise excluded from deciding on a given matter to pass judgment if inactivity on the part of the court would lead to a denial of access to fair judicial treatment.
In Slovakia’s reality the amendment will move Čentéš’ complaint to the first originally drawn judicial panel, which includes two justices who have been lawfully excluded from the decision making via Čentéš’ objection of bias, which in reality means that a law manufactured by Smer has been placed above a valid decision of the court, thereby cancelling it.
Also, a week prior to the vote Fico was still saying that his party would not opt for a fast-tracked proceeding, but would instead treat the revision during a regular session in May. Fico then justified a sudden urge to give the general prosecution a new leader, saying that “secret information” had emerged, which suggests, he feels, that the situation has become unbearable. Fico, however, refused to provide further details, saying that “I will not be here like a clucking chicken talking about secrets”.
Without questioning Fico’s access to confidential information, the fact that the country’s prosecution is in urgent need of an independent head is not a secret, and the local media has been reporting extensively about cases that prove this.
A controversial real estate transfer enabled by Dobroslav Trnka, the former general prosecutor who now serves as deputy to current acting general prosecutor Ladislav Tichý, tops the list of examples. The case involves the construction and sale of Glance House, which, thanks to Trnka’s letter, was reportedly transferred to a representative of CDI, a London-based company which has links to Marián Kočner, a controversial businessman also known to be on friendly terms with Trnka, according to Sme.
Tichý, along with several judges, is meanwhile suing the Nový Čas tabloid daily for its coverage of their participation in a party, which they dubbed the Judiciary Oscars Association, at the Bonanno bar, named after a famous mafia family, in Rajecké Teplice. The judicial figures object to Nový Čas’ interpretation of photographs from the party as making light of a shooting spree that occurred a couple of months earlier, committed by Ľubomír Harman, a 48-year-old man wearing blue ear defenders and armed with an assault rifle. Nový Čas published images from the party with one of the attendees sporting blue ear defenders and carrying an imitation assault rifle.
The prosecution has been without a leader since February 2011. Even though parliament elected Čentéš as his replacement in June 2011, it took Gašparovič until 2013 to state unequivocally that he would not appoint Čentéš, offering all manner of creative reasons for not doing so.
Finally, a ruling by the Constitutional Court, which said that the president of Slovakia must “deal with” the proposal of parliament to appoint a new general prosecutor if this candidate was elected in accordance with the law, and that the president must either appoint him/her “within an appropriate time frame” or inform parliament of his refusal, provided the president with an option to not appoint Čentéš. The same court nevertheless deemed the parliamentary vote in which Čentéš was elected to the post to be in line with the law.
Why has the Constitutional Court failed to resolve the deadlock in-house? What does it say about the independence of the court when only a single judge from the pool of judges has not been subject to an allegation of bias? Who, in the end, will become Slovakia’s next general prosecutor? There is at least an answer to the last question: someone whom the ruling Smer party will like.
6. May 2013 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová