Strasbourg rejects proposed judges

NONE of the candidates proposed by Slovakia satisfy the requirements for a judge of the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe (CoE) has concluded.

NONE of the candidates proposed by Slovakia satisfy the requirements for a judge of the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe (CoE) has concluded.

The Slovak government submitted its second list of three candidates for the prestigious European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) post in September, but the CoE Parliametary Assembly’s sub-committee on the election of judges unanimously recommended the assembly reject the slate, just like it did last year with the previous slate. The sub-committee argued that the proposed candidates “do not appear to possess the appropriate professional experience and stature to meet the criteria” for the post, the sub-committee wrote.

Slovakia needs to find a suitable candidate to fill the post after the term of Judge Ján Šikuta elapsed in October 2013. After one year and two attempts, however, Šikuta remains in the post, waiting for his successor to take over. Slovakia’s representatives now need to come up with a new list of candidates. The selection of the candidates is in the competence of the Judicial Council, the highest body of the judiciary self-administration in the country.

Three candidates

The rejected candidates, who were picked by the Judicial Council in December 2013, are Bratislava District III Court judge Andrea Krišková, lawyer and Comenius University Law Faculty subdean Ondrej Laciak, and the current representative of the Slovak Republic to the ECHR Marica Pirošíková.

Observers have expressed reservations towards the candidates as soon as the slate was made public at the end of last year, suggesting that the selected candidates do not fulfil the personal and professional requirements for the post.

While Laciak and Krišková have never been involved with the human rights agenda in their professional history, the Fair-Play Alliance non-governmental watchdog noted back then, Pirošíková does have a relevant history in the area of human rights as she represents Slovakia in front of the ECHR.

She, however, appeared on the first slate that the Judicial Council drafted in June 2013 that the CoE Parliamentary Assembly rejected as not sufficiently qualified. That slate also featured the names of prosecutor Marek Tomašovič and former Constitutional Court judge Ján Drgonec.

Also, Pirošíková has represented Slovakia at the ECHR since 2007, and thus acted as the representative for one of the parties of cases in front of the European court, which is likely to be qualified as a conflict of interest if she were to become a judge at the court, the Fair-Play Alliance suggested.

Two rejections

It is the second time that the CoE bodies rejected the candidates proposed by the Slovak government.

“Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák repeatedly warned in advance that the candidate list as it was passed in the Judicial Council might be rejected, which, unfortunately, proved to be the case,” the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Peter Susko told The Slovak Spectator.

The sub-commission and the CoE Parliamentary Assembly rejected Slovakia’s first slate in late June 2013. In December 2013, the Judicial Council drafted an alternative slate, provoking an outcry particularly among the judiciary transparency watchdogs who claimed it to be “one of the worst scandals seen in recent months”.

That is what non-governmental organisations wrote in their open letter drafted by the Fair-Play Alliance. The signatories called upon the government not to submit the list with the names of Laciak, Pirošíková, and Krišková on it. They claimed that the candidates were selected in a less-than-transparent process, which they believe to have been controlled only by Štefan Harabin, the then head of the Judicial Council as well as the Supreme Court president.

Harabin no longer serves in either of the two top judiciary posts.

New council, new vote

The government however acknowledged the slate in December 2013. The election of the ECHR judge was originally to take place in January 2014, but was postponed first until April and then until September because the Judicial Council was undergoing personnel changes and its top post had been vacant for some months.

Lajčák noted already in June 2014 that the parliamentary assembly was not contented with Slovakia’s slate.

“I would hate to expose the country to the humiliation of having our list rejected again,” Lajčák said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “I care about receiving names from the Judicial Council that the government will be happy to approve with a clear conscience.”

Members of the Judicial Council claimed, however, that it was impossible to cancel the secret ballot, mainly because the cabinet has approved it, and Lajčák subsequently sent the list to CoE.
The list was rejected, and the Judicial Council will now need to elect three new candidates for the post.

New Judicial Council Chairwoman Jana Bajánková told the Sme daily that she believes that in the next ballot the Judicial Council will propose the best possible candidates. She also promised to do all she can to make the process more dignified than last time when Harabin examined the candidates’ knowledge of foreign languages, Sme wrote.

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