“WE SHOULD stop talking about bad judiciary and bad judges and start concretely naming [them], assess and draw responsibility,” said Gabriel Šípoš, director of the political ethics watchdog Transparency International Slovensko (TIS), as he introduced a new open-data project which should help the public to take a closer look at Slovakia’s judiciary, plagued as it is by public mistrust. While the Ministry of Justice welcomed the portal, www.otvorenesudy.sk (‘Open Courts’), Štefan Harabin, the president of the Supreme Court, was highly critical, using his blog to say it harms the reputation of the courts.
The portal offers profiles of more than 1,700 judges, along with their CVs and letter of motivation, the number of Supreme Court decisions pertaining to their operation, and the percentage of their decisions upheld by a higher court. Each judge’s property reports, their close relatives within the judiciary, the share of their cases with long-delayed judgements, their rulings, future and partial hearings, as well as related media coverage are also part of the profiles, according to TIS.
The open-data project also brings together information on court trials and decisions published on the website of the Justice Ministry for “all who like having all the important information in one place and want to effectively search it”. The portal makes it possible for users to monitor cases and decisions by particular judges.
Users can receive e-mail notifications of decisions by selected judges or of upcoming hearings, while “the list of hearings is updated every second day,” said the co-author of the project, Samuel Molnár, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
Explaining TIS’ reasons for launching the site, Šípoš said that surveys showed that “every eleventh household paid a bribe at a court over the past year”, while 67 percent of the population does not trust the courts at all, adding that “an untrustworthy judiciary influences the business environment and [people’s] quality of life”. According to Šípoš, despite the bad conditions, debate about the quality of the justice system is marginal, and to a large degree data about it are absent.
“We believe that by giving access to until-know poorly accessible information, like for example data on fines from the Constitutional Court or issues that have not been handled over the long term, we will press for a discussion on the quality of courts and judges,” Matej Kurian of TIS said.
According to Kurian, the portal draws mainly on open data, and that some of these are obtained from several additional public sources.
“The Ministry of Justice was very helpful, while communication with the Slovak presidential office was much worse,” said Kurian, as quoted by SITA, adding that to date the Office of the President has not provided a list of judges whom the president has sacked, instead preferring to treat the information as private.
TIS prepared the project in cooperation with two students, Molnár and Pavol Zbell, who won the competition Restart Slovakia organised by the Centre for Philanthropy, an NGO.
“The ministry welcomes every initiative that increases the access of the public to information on the real work of judges and contributes to a more objective perception of the judiciary,” said Justice Ministry spokesperson Jana Zlatohlávková, as quoted by SITA.
The ministry at the same time noted that its website carries information on the operation of the courts as well as individual judges, along with statistical data.
While For Open Justice, an initiative set up by judges, welcomed the initiative too, it also warned that some data might not be complete or correct.
“After reviewing the portal OtvoreneSudy.sk we have serious reason to doubt the correctness of the published numbers attributed to specific judges,” said the initiative’s president, Katarína Javorčíková, as quoted by SITA.
For example, she explained that a senate is comprised of three judges who must be updated about all the issues the senate handles, but on the portal these judges are assessed based on the number of cases they have been assigned personally, as though they did not participate in decision-making on other issues, Javorčíková told SITA.
Kurian said that TIS regrets the problem and has been working to remove it.
“However, I would like to point out that we are talking about an error which has been there in the official data of the Ministry of Justice for two years and it is thanks to this project that it has been detected,” Kurian told The Slovak Spectator.
Harabin dismisses project as waste of money
Writing on his blog, www.harabin.sk, Supreme Court head Harabin argued that the new portal only lifts information from the official database of the Ministry of Justice, and said that the ministry’s database includes substantially more precise and up-to-date information.
“If correction is not made in a short time, we will be forced to inform the headquarters of Transparency International about the unbelievably superficial approach and waste of money in Slovakia,” Harabin said.
Supreme Court judges rule exclusively in senates and in the case of most judges on the website there are no rulings indicated, even in case of those whom TIS considers “so-called pro-reform” judges, for example Milan Karabín, whose senate regularly sits and makes decisions, Harabin wrote.
“In this way a false impression is created that Supreme Court judges do not decide on anything,” Harabin wrote, adding that last year they “solved almost 8,000 things”, while the criminal division deals with the most serious organised-crime cases.
Harabin noted that the Slovak Supreme Court was the first court in Slovakia to start publishing invoices and all its decisions on its website, with a search tool, even before this was required by law.
“Such untrue information on the operation of the courts by TIS of course lowers trust in the courts,” wrote Harabin, adding that this “is obviously the intention” and that the money invested was therefore wasted and could instead go to the victims of crime.
In his response to Harabin, Kurian said that in terms of the accuracy of data, TIS is working on corrections and will be notifying users that such a problem exists. As far as Harabin’s comments on data lifting is concerned, Kurian told The Slovak Spectator that the Supreme Court head has completely missed the point since these data were created by the state for public use and since the ministry’s website is difficult to navigate, with the data being dispersed, the OtvoreneSudy.sk project, which is more user-friendly, can significantly improve the public’s access to them.
“In an ideal situation, the state would be able to create websites that are useful to citizens, but we often see that this is not the case and if an NGO makes such a site from funds received from its own donors, I do not think that this constitutes a reason for criticism,” Kurian concluded.
29. Jul 2013 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová