Courts complain on recordings

THOUGH the new duty to record all civil and criminal proceedings was to make the work of courts more effective, the court employees and judges complain that it has only brought chaos and parliament looks set to change the law again at its March session.

(Source: SME)

All courts across Slovakia are obliged to make recordings of their proceedings as of March 2.

“They bring opportunity to accelerate the proceedings and put them into operation, because the courts are swamped by many mass complaints,” Justice Minister Tomáš Borec said after parliament adopted the change in November 2014, as quoted by the TASR newswire. 

He also said that the recordings will cultivate the presentation and behaviour of those present in the court room, and clarify what was said at the proceeding and what was not.

All recordings will have to be archived at the data carrier which will be part of the court file.

The court employees and judges are, however, not so optimistic and point to the deficiencies of the system and warn against procrastinations in the proceedings.

According to Marta Božková, head of the Justice Trade Unions, the system is not set correctly, as reported by the Pravda daily.

“The assistant has to connect the devices, which we are short of, before the proceeding,” Božková told Pravda, adding that preparations for recording can take up to 30 minutes.

The judges warn that the recordings will result in delays. Moreover, Dana Bystrianska, head of the Association of Judges of Slovakia, says it amounts to surveilling judges and does little to improve the effectiveness or speed of the judiciary, as reported by Pravda.

The Justice Ministry insists it has secured the recording devices and necessary technology for all of the country’s 510 court rooms. They also gave them to the prisons where the proceedings take place, ministry spokesman Pavol Kubík told The Slovak Spectator. 

The purchase and installation of the devices cost more than €230,000, and was funded from the Swiss Financial Mechanism, the Sme daily wrote.

The ministry also says there were all necessary training courses held during the testing phase which started in January.

“The operation of the devices is easy and intuitive so nothing should hinder the smooth course of proceeding,” Kubík said.

The only change is that it is necessary to switch on the device in the beginning of the proceeding, switch it off in the end and then attach the recording to the file via the automated system, he explained.

“This recording does not substitute the report which still needs to be done,” Kubík added.

Limiting recordings

Though the rules only recently went into effect, it seems they will change again soon. Smer MP Anna Vitteková proposes to limit recording of criminal proceedings only to the main trials and public sessions where evidence is presented. She explained there is no reason to record closed sessions where only members of the senate and recording clerk are present. The change is part of the law on electronic bracelets for prisoners which will be discussed at an upcoming parliamentary session, TASR wrote.

Vitteková admitted that she was surprised by the discussion the new duty to record proceedings started among judges.

“These are rather problems of a technical character, so we wanted to simplify it a bit,” she explained, as quoted by TASR. 

Former justice minister Lucia Žitňanská, who currently serves as MP for Most-Híd, opposes the proposed changes. 

“The recording is used not only to tape presenting the evidence but also, in case the parties complain on a judge, to verify whether the judge violated the rules,” Žitňanská told TASR. “If we limit the recording of criminal court proceedings, it will not fulfil all functions it should.” 

Further steps

The Justice Ministry also plans to introduce the electronic file which should simplify the access to information to all parties. These should gradually substitute for paper documents, the public-service broadcaster RTVS reported.

This also means that the courts will not make a written report from the proceeding and will use only the recordings. Such a proposal is part of the revisions to the law which were already submitted to the parliament and which should come into force in July 2016, Kubík said.

The projects to modernise the judiciary will cost together €70 million, most of which will be paid from EU funds, the private TA3 news channel reported.

“The condition is that all documents will be transformed to electronic form, even those on paper,” Donevová told RTVS.

Several presidents of courts however said they lack capacities to scan the documents. This concerns especially the district courts, which need to administer the business register.

“Court employees will not have enough time to do it,” Božková told RTVS.

The Justice Ministry has already asked the Finance Ministry to increase its budget so it will also be able to pay for new employees, RTVS reported.

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