Three former police officers convicted for crimes like bribery or sexual molestation have recently been freed by the Supreme Court. While a number of Supreme Court judges, including its President Daniela Švecová, as well as the Justice Ministry, call the respective rulings unlawful, former Supreme Court president Štefan Harabin, who chaired the senate in all three cases, points to a ruling by the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR).
“The Strasbourg judicature clearly says that the inspection service under the interior ministry does not have the attributes of independence,” Harabin argued as quoted by the Sme daily.
In fact, the Czech Republic has made changes to its police inspectorate based on ECHR rulings that doubted its independence.
“The ECHR has repeatedly demanded the independence of this type of body as one of the main principles of effective investigation of crimes committed by police officers,” Kristína Babiaková, a lawyer with the non-governmental Via Iuris, told the Sme daily.
Another policeman freed
A senate led by Harabin delivered the most recent ruling based on this argument on July 22 in the case of former police officer Juraj Vymyslický, who was convicted by the Specialised Criminal Court for taking a bribe of €50 from a German driver who did not observe a stop sign on the road and paid the police officer “hard cash” instead of paying a regular bill. The driver later realised he made a mistake and reported the incident to the police.
Vymyslický was later convicted for bribery, and sentenced for five years in prison and a fine of €300.
Just like in all cases where police officers are involved, the case was investigated by the police inspectorate. Harabin maintains that such body is unlawful and that was the reason why his senate stripped Vymyslický of all charges. The ruling cannot be appealed against, since it was delivered by an appellate senate.
Vymyslický will “definitely demand compensation”, also for the fact that he was fired from the police corps due to the case, his attorney said after the verdict was delivered, as reported by TV Markíza.
Inspectorate should change
The rulings of Harabin’s senate earned the former Supreme Court president harsh criticism, with top judges, the justice minister, and the president labelling them legally ungrounded and immoral. While Harabin’s critics claim that he has used the ECHR ruling in a twisted manner, some of them admit that the inspectorate that investigates problematic behaviour of police officers indeed should not belong under the Interior Ministry.
Notably, Ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová has repeatedly pointed this out.
The Interior Ministry however does not seem to be considering changes to the inspectorate. Police Corps President Tibor Gašpar claims that it is independent enough and its investigation and operations are not influenced by anyone from the police corps leadership.
Gašpar believes it is a good system that the inspectorate falls under the Interior Minister and not under the Police Corps top officials, including himself.
“Nobody can have any doubts that we would intervene in those cases in which police officers are suspects,” Gašpar said as quoted by the TASR newswire.
The inspectorate brings up charges against about 150 police officers annually, according to Gašpar.
Kiska: End 'Harabinisation'
The recent rulings of the Harabin-chiared senate also prompted President Andrej Kiska to mention the state of judiciary in a July 23 address, when he noted it wasn’t clear whether anyone was going to do anything about the controversial rulings even though the Supreme Court president, the general prosecutor, the justice minister, and several judges and experts labelled them doubtful or unlawful.
“One year ago we were expressing hope that we were starting a new era,” Kiska said, hinting at the 2014 election of the chair of the Judicial Council which ended Harabin’s tenure, and announced he expects the Supreme Court and Judicial Council leadership, along with the justice minister, to act.
“Resolutely, and in such manner as to definitively end one era of our judiciary that is linked with practices that carried the stamp of the so-called Harabin-style judiciary and that even today, as seen from the rulings of the senate of Štefan Harabin, dramatically decrease the trustworthiness of courts and judges in our country,” Kiska said.
No action has however been taken so far, although Švecová said she was pondering convening the Penal College of the court to unify the contradictory rulings, the Sme daily reported.
For now, Harabin, or any other judge at the Supreme Court for that matter, can keep releasing police officers who were investigated by the police inspectorate and subsequently convicted by other courts.
29. Jul 2015 at 14:59 | Michaela Terenzani