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EDITORIAL

Duelling for justice

“I REGRET that we do not live in a time when I could challenge you to a duel,” writes the husband of the president of Slovakia’s Constitutional Court in a letter to one of the parties to an ongoing dispute at this same court, telling him that he would leave “the choice of weapon” up to him. The husband, who is himself a lawyer and, thus, some of the ground rules of the judiciary should not be foreign to him, says in his letter to the man who filed an objection of bias against his spouse, that his parents must be ashamed of him and that “obviously your sick desire to sit in the chair of the general prosecutor has released in you a so-far well-masked churlishness and [revealed your] human limitations”.

“I REGRET that we do not live in a time when I could challenge you to a duel,” writes the husband of the president of Slovakia’s Constitutional Court in a letter to one of the parties to an ongoing dispute at this same court, telling him that he would leave “the choice of weapon” up to him. The husband, who is himself a lawyer and, thus, some of the ground rules of the judiciary should not be foreign to him, says in his letter to the man who filed an objection of bias against his spouse, that his parents must be ashamed of him and that “obviously your sick desire to sit in the chair of the general prosecutor has released in you a so-far well-masked churlishness and [revealed your] human limitations”.

The letter, which was published by the Sme daily on May 15, does not come from the realm of fiction, but is a real development in the already knotty case of the lawfully elected but not yet appointed general prosecutor Jozef Čentéš, who is contesting the refusal of President Ivan Gašparovič to appoint him to the post at the Constitutional Court led by Ivetta Macejková. Her husband drafted the letter to Čentéš in response to an objection of bias that he filed against Macejková, which Čentéš, who actually did not publish the letter himself but admitted to having received it only after being asked by Sme, described as factual and impersonal. The husband, guarding what he referred to as his wife’s honour, argued that he did not write to Čentéš as a party in a legal dispute, but to “citizen Čentéš”, according to Sme.

The letter, however, casts loads of additional doubt on whether the Constitutional Court, which is currently under the baton of Macejková, is indeed capable of producing an objective decision in the highly charged case, which could one day be used as a case study to show how things went terribly wrong within Slovakia’s judiciary.

Those who thought that nothing could surprise them anymore after witnessing a series of objections against 12 of the court’s 13 justices, or the fast-tracked law the ruling Smer party manufactured to resolve the resulting stalemate, can now continue to be amazed, because obviously the shock potential of the Čentéš case is still far from being exhausted.

The husband’s letter became public shortly after an e-mail written by Constitutional Court justice Peter Brňák, who was excluded from deciding on the complaint of Čentéš due to what the senate of the Constitutional Court called bias, was leaked to the media. In his e-mail, published by Sme, Brňák objected to the fact that Macejková gave to his secretary the Čentéš file, explaining that “within this file there is no written comment/instruction about the reasons why this file was given to me, and after checking the registry I found out that it is still registered under Judge Orosz”. Brňák explained that he did not understand this proceeding and called on her to secure “a hearing which has the support of the law”, according to Sme.

Macejková made this move during a time when the revision to the law on the organisation of the Constitutional Court, drafted by Smer, had still not been signed by the president, even though it could result in the case going back to the originally assigned senate, which includes Brňák. Moreover, there is still an ongoing dispute over whether the judges who have already been excluded from the case due to objections of bias can be involved in deciding in the matter. Macejková’s rush can of course be interpreted in many ways, but unfortunately not in a way that would show that the court is guided by the utmost principles of fairness.

Macejková does not think she has erred and, as quoted by Sme, she said that “it is probable that after gaining force the file in question will be assigned to the original senate”, of which Brňák is a member, which is why he preliminarily received the file. But obviously the judge himself did not feel comfortable with this arrangement. Macejková is obviously not worried about the independence of her court and seems more concerned about the letter having been leaked to the media, which she views as interference in the court’s independence.

Only people who are unfamiliar with the dealings of the Slovak judiciary might assume that all this would result in the resignation of Macejková or even more, her recall. The story of Čentéš has been a sad one for some time, but these recent developments are turning it into a true farce. But then, what is left when the roots of this farce actually run as deep or as high as the court itself, which is supposed to guard the legal foundations of the state?

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