JUDGES have opted for yet another change to the country’s ailing judiciary, selecting pro-reform judge Dušan Čimo over Štefan Harabin to fill a vacant seat on the Judicial Council, a collection of judges that help oversee the country’s court system.
Earlier this year Harabin, who has long been criticised for how he guided the judiciary while operating as both Supreme Court and Judicial Council chair, also failed in his bid to get re-elected as Supreme Court chairman. Čimo was a former Judicial Council member who was dismissed by the Smer-controlled parliament only one week before the key September 16 election of the Supreme Court president and the council chair. He returns to the council after 342 of the country’s 1,119 voting judges supported him.
While Harabin’s critics rejoiced over the results, the man who controlled the country’s judiciary over more than a decade said that “small defeats have always launched me to big victories”. Harabin did not say whether he would challenge the results of the vote, in which he finished third.
Čimo of the Trnava Regional Court said the results were better than his expectations and that they “give a reason for optimism”, the SITA newswire reported. Čimo is a White Crow award winner, an honour that goes to Slovaks who took personal risk as whistleblowers by challenging unethical or corrupt behaviour.
Former vice-chair of Bratislava Regional Court, Lenka Praženková of the Supreme Court finished second in the vote, just 27 behind Čimo, followed by Harabin’s 255 votes and 196 votes for Martin Bargel of the Žilina Regional Court.
While Čimo said it is possible to interpret the vote as a definite no to Harabin he is still concerned that he “still received relatively high support”, according to the Sme daily.
Nevertheless, the For an Open Judiciary (ZOJ) association, an independent judiciary initiative unifying judges who are critical of the performance of Harabin, said that the results of the vote in the Judicial Council means there is clear support for change, the TASR newswire reported.
“It means a clear yes for changes within the judiciary and also is a very positive signal for the public, which undoubtedly will contribute to increasing the credibility of the judiciary,” ZOJ Chairwoman Katarína Javorčíková said.
Earlier this year a constitutional amendment divided the post of Supreme Court president from the position of Judicial Council as of September and left one position in the council vacant. The council has 18 members. The president appoints three members, while the government and parliament send each of their three appointees to the Judicial Council. Nine members are elected by judges.
The Judicial Council was set up to defend the interests of the judges, but it also submits proposals for appointing judges to the country’s president and decides on placement of judges to different courts, among other tasks.
Harabin, who previously headed the council, claimed that he was running because he was addressed by a huge number of judges, SITA reported.
Čimo said he would like to continue in the Judicial Council in efforts to “fairly reconcile” with the heavy burden from the history of the council and then there are a number of tasks on the road of increasing the credibility of judiciary. This should, according to Čimo, include amending the code of ethics, through clear and transparent criteria of selection up to commenting the legislation pertaining to the judiciary, TASR reported.
Justice Minister Tomáš Borec has said that the judges sent a clear signal, which is “good news about the Slovak judiciary”. Borec interprets the outcome of the vote as a confirmation that constitutional changes towards the Judicial Council, including the separation of the post of Supreme Court president and chairman of the judicial council were correct, TASR wrote.
Čimo was recalled from the council by Smer deputies in the parliament only one week ahead of the September 16 election of the Supreme Court president and head of the Judicial Council, after parliament’s Deputy Speaker Jana Laššáková proposed his dismissal. Smer MPs offered no detailed explanation for sacking Čimo.
Opposition MPs called the move a deliberate effort by Smer to secure votes for the election for the new Supreme Court and Judicial Council head, SITA wrote.