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Court sees bias in judge pay case

HUNDREDS of judges who have sued the state over what they called wage discrimination cannot decide over such lawsuits pending in Slovak courts, according to the Constitutional Court. The court sided with the state, represented by the Slovak Justice Ministry, which objected to a Supreme Court ruling that saw judges making a decision on a case in which they had a personal interest.

HUNDREDS of judges who have sued the state over what they called wage discrimination cannot decide over such lawsuits pending in Slovak courts, according to the Constitutional Court. The court sided with the state, represented by the Slovak Justice Ministry, which objected to a Supreme Court ruling that saw judges making a decision on a case in which they had a personal interest.

The Constitutional Court senate featuring Milan Ľalík, Lajos Mészároš and Sergej Kohut has cancelled the challenged decision by the Supreme Court and has returned it for retrial, the SITA newswire reported.

Justice Minister Tomáš Borec assumes that the verdict of the Constitutional Court, which pertains to one anti-discrimination complaint by a judge, will have a positive impact on proceedings in similar cases, which have not been completed yet.

“The constant opinion of the ministry in this matter is that the anti-discrimination lawsuits should not be decided by judges who themselves have submitted such complaints,” said Borec, as quoted by SITA.

Hundreds of judges have filed wage discrimination lawsuits, most of them following a Constitutional Court ruling in May 2009 which found that the Special Court set up by a previous government to fight high-level corruption and organised crime, had not been established in accordance with the country’s constitution. Part of the ruling was based on the grounds that the position of judges in different courts was unequal, including in terms of pay. Special Court judges typically received considerably higher pay than regular judges.

The case made it to the Constitutional Court after a Bratislava District Court upheld an anti-discrimination action filed by one of the judges awarding the judge the sum of almost €90,000 of the requested €150,000 in compensation in February 2010. The Justice Ministry appealed against this, while a series of objections based on allegations of bias followed. These objections of bias then ended up at the Supreme Court, where its president, Štefan Harabin, decided that all the objections would be dealt with exclusively by a single senate.

The Constitutional Court thus also dealt with the issue whether judges who themselves filed such a lawsuit can decide about the discrimination lawsuits filed by their colleagues, since the senate of the Supreme Court did not exclude such judges who themselves have filed such lawsuits from the process, the TASR newswire reported.

The Constitutional Court ruled that it is inadmissible for any court to lack a mechanism that makes the random assignment of cases possible and instead makes it possible for one senate to decide on the objections of bias, Ľalík wrote in his verdict. Ľalík also suggested that it is at odds with the constitution if judges who themselves filed anti-discrimination lawsuits decide on these cases, according to TASR.

As many as 808 judges from district, regional courts and the Supreme Court have submitted anti-discrimination lawsuits, with 651 cases still open and 105 withdrawn, Borec told the press. The court fees have not been paid by 270 judges, while in 50 cases the courts stopped the proceeding due to unpaid fees. In an additional 50 cases the proceeding has not been yet lawfully stopped, SITA reported.

“Currently, we have one decision from 2007, when a defining lawsuit was in question and the verdict of the court said that the remuneration of the judge was at odds with the rule of equal treatment,” Borec said, as quoted by TASR.

According to Borec, first instance courts decided in seven cases with five rulings favouring the Justice Ministry and two were against the department while one is not lawful yet.

“We want to wait for the written form of the verdict of the Constitutional Court, so that I can see the course of thought of these judges and I also want to see the opposing opinion of the judge, who disagrees with this decision,” Borec said, as quoted by SITA.

The Justice Ministry filed the complaint with the Constitutional Court back in 2010 when it was led by Lucia Žitňanská, now deputy with the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ).

“Though it took relatively long, I am very glad that the Constitutional Court delivered a decision and that there are still some bits of common sense applied,” Žitňanská said, as quoted by SITA. “These lawsuits are unacceptable also legally not only morally.”

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