Diseased judiciary drags down healthy society

SLOVAKIA’S judiciary is ill. The symptoms are many, and though the treatments occasionally attempt to deal with those symptoms, it is comparable to treating a brain tumour with painkillers.

SLOVAKIA’S judiciary is ill. The symptoms are many, and though the treatments occasionally attempt to deal with those symptoms, it is comparable to treating a brain tumour with painkillers.

The virus afflicting the court system is at risk of becoming a chronic condition, one viewed by the public with distrust and comments of resignation, along the lines of “This is how it is”.

And then there are the judiciary figures who claim that there is nothing wrong with the courts, which have indeed unlocked doors for criminals to flee the country, washed the hands of senior politicians suspected of corruption clean and failed to bring justice to cases where it has been due for many years.

One of the most egregious of these stories is that of Kosovar Albanian Baki Sadiki, suspected of smuggling heroin from Turkey to Slovakia hidden in imported beach sandals. He has been granted a re-trial of his case by the Prešov Regional Court, after the original verdict was cancelled, along with the 22 year sentence the alleged drug lord was sentenced to in absentia. The court’s ruling suggested that a new trial was one of the conditions set by Kosovo for Sadiki’s extradition, but the Slovak Justice Ministry has denied agreeing to any such condition. The media speculate that differing interpretations could have been caused by incorrect translation into Slovak.

On September 11 Justice Minister Tomáš Borec said he was considering a special appeal against the verdict of the court, but two months later it seems that nothing really stands in the way of Sadiki, who for critics of the judiciary, journalists and political ethics watchdogs, remains a symbol of unexplained links between criminals and top judges, and a new trial.

According to the Sme daily, that trial was scheduled to open on November 7. Sme also reported, referring to its own investigation, that the only person who has been reproached for the myriad weird turns in this case is a bureaucrat at the ministry. At this point it is unclear whether Sadiki will ever end up behind bars.

Ironically, around the time Sadiki’s new trial begins, Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin is about to get €150,000 in damages from the General Prosecutor’s Office, which confirmed that a phone conversation that Harabin is alleged to have had in 1994 with Sadiki formed part of a request by the then head of its criminal department to have Harabin excluded from decision-making in cases involving Sadiki.

The Bratislava Regional Court upheld an earlier verdict of the lower level court, which granted Harabin damages for what the court called an incorrect official proceeding. According to Sme, the court did not scrutinise the authenticity of the transcript. Both Harabin and Sadiki denied contacts and the existence of the phone call.

Back in 2008, the opposition cited the transcript in a motion seeking to get Harabin sacked as justice minister in the first government of Robert Fico. The initiative, which failed, was led by opposition MP Daniel Lipšic, who called Harabin’s ties with Sadiki “friendly”. Harabin, who went straight from the post of justice minister to the Supreme Court, has now called on Lipšic to pay the €150,000 bill from his own pocket, according to the SITA newswire.

It is unlikely that Harabin will ever be stripped of his judicial robe.

Even with all his baggage, Harabin occupies one of the highest positions of Slovakia’s judiciary and in late October 2013 the Constitutional Court dismissed most of the disciplinary motions that the previous justice minister filed against him. It does not seem he will leave that chair anytime soon.
Though all the ills of the estate of justice cannot be attributed to a single person, Harabin is the ultimate symbol of the broken system.

We would be remiss not to mention the cases that never even make it into a courtroom. Three years have passed since prominent lawyer Ernest Valko, who played a central role in framing several crucial post-communist laws and served as president of the Czechoslovak Constitutional Court before Slovak independence in 1993, was shot dead on November 8, 2010 at his house in Limbach, near Bratislava. It is still not known who killed the lawyer and there is little to no information on how the police are progressing in the investigation.

Hedviga Malinová- Žáková, who in 2006 reported to the police that she was assaulted for speaking Hungarian, is still waiting for justice, but instead she was denounced by Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák as a “pathological liar” and had the General Prosecutor’s Office issue this November a ruling to have Košice-based orthopaedist Boris Lisanský assess her alleged injuries from the alleged 2006 attack. The list goes on.

Left untreated, the judiciary will leave behind generations of people who will accept this sickness as a normal condition. This is not what happens in a healthy society.

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