- The lower house of Parliament has supported a bill detailing the rules for the direct election of the president .
- Ombudsman Pavel Varvařovský has warned that the slow pace of Czech courts is impairing the right to a fair trial.
- A lay judge in the corruption trial of former transport minister Vít Bárta has been expelled for comments made in an interview.
- Škoda Auto unions have threatened a strike if workers do not receive an increase in bonuses.
Lower house supports rules for direct presidential elections
The lower house of Parliament has supported a bill detailing the rules for the direct election of the president. The bill calls for election of the president by a simple majority in two-rounds. The second round would include the two leading candidates from the first round and would take place two-weeks later. Candidates must receive the support of 20 MPs or ten senators, or otherwise must have their candidacy endorsed with 50,000 signatures. The form of the bill must still be debated between the coalition and the opposition. The Social Democratic Party is seeking to include financing limits on presidential campaigns, among other things.
Ombudsman warns slow courts impair right to fair trial
Ombudsman Pavel Varvařovský has warned that the slow pace of Czech courts is impairing the right to a fair trial. Verdicts take exceedingly long in most courts of justice, he says, and not because there are not enough judges but because they are disproportionately placed. The long-term shortage of recording clerks, higher judicial officials and assistants also has a negative impact on the length of cases. The ombudsman also noted that while the Justice Ministry saved money by cutting staff, it is spending more money on compensation for delays. He also criticises the lack of any assessment of the case burden on courts and the allocation of judges accordingly.
Lay judge dismissed in Bárta case
One of the lay judges in the corruption trial of former transport minister Vít Bárta has been expelled for comments made in a newspaper interview. Assessor Marie Jungwirthová told the daily Lidové noviny on Wednesday that the five days of testimony had made her and the other lay judges “feel like vomiting”, and described the case as a cesspool. When asked to explain, she said she had a sinister feeling from witness Krystína Kočí, who accuses Mr Bárta of having offered her a half-million crown bribe. The court’s spokeswoman says that the assessor’s statements gave cause to doubt that she was unbiased.
Constitutional Court rejects Diag Human complaint
The Constitutional Court has dismissed a procedural complaint lodged by Diag Human, which is involved in a multi-billion crown court case with the Czech state. Diag Human protested against the circumstances under which arbitrators were selected to review a previous decision. The constitutional judges concluded that the naming of the arbitrators had been chaotic, but that there had been no technical error and both parties had been culpable for the problems. Diag Human is demanding around 10 billion crowns from the Czech Republic for allegedly thwarting its blood plasma business in the country in the 1990s.
Škoda Auto unions threaten strike
Škoda Auto unions have threatened a strike if workers do not receive an increase in bonuses. An eighth round of negotiations with the company management on the labour agreement failed to produce an agreement on Wednesday. The company offered 5000 crowns towards variable bonuses for a defined period of time. The unions say this would mean only the minimum of real growth and demand an incentive share in the company’s record profits. Škoda Auto sold a record 879.200 cars in 2011, which is a year-on-year increase of 15%. The average wage in the manufacturer was 32,000 crowns in 2010, according to the unions.
Fischer remains favourite in presidential polls
Polls continue to suggest that former prime minister Jan Fischer would win the presidency in direct elections. A new survey by the agency Factum Invenio gives Mr Fischer 21.8% of the vote, followed by economist and 2008 presidential candidate Jan Švejnar with 15.1%. Of potential party candidates former prime minister Miloš Zeman fared best in the poll, with 10.2, followed by TOP 09 chairman Karel Schwarzenberg with 8.2%. Of the 959 voters asked, 65% said they would vote in the election. The first round of the elections should be held between January 6 and February 5, 2013.
Klaus signs European Social Charter protocol
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has signed the European Social Charter´s additional protocol on the system of collective complaints. In 2003, both houses of Parliament approved the document, which allows collective complaints over social rights violations to be lodged with the Council of Europe. Mr Klaus however refused to ratify the protocol and the Social Democratic Party said it would bring the issue to the Constitutional Court. That the president is obliged to ratify international agreements approved by Parliament is agreed on by most constitutional experts, with the notable exception of Zdeněk Koudelka. The president asked the Senate to nominate Mr Koudelka to the Constitutional Court a day after ratifying the protocol.
Czech scientists to expand Antarctic research
Czech scientists are expanding their research in the Antarctic. New topics of study will include the parasitology of fish that inhabit extremely cold waters, heavy metals in lichens and ultraviolet treatment of foodstuffs brought to Antarctica. The research will take place on the Antarctic Peninsula and on James Ross Island, where Masaryk University has run the Mendel Polar Station for the last five years. Results will be published in the new magazine Czech Polar Reports, the first issue of which the university has just published.
Two Prague restaurants receive Michelin stars
Two Prague restaurants have received a star in this year´s edition of the prestigious French Michelin gastronomic guidebook. Alcron and La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise, both of which have Czech chefs, won the star for the first time. The Michelin Main Cities of Europe 2012 guidebook includes 2100 restaurants and 1500 hotels in 44 cities in 20 European countries. It also mentions Prague restaurants that were given the Bib Gourmand rating for offering "good food at moderate prices" - SaSaZu, Le Terroir, Aromi and Divinis, which defended this award from last year, along with two "newcomers," Sansho and Monastery. The new edition of the book will be available in select bookstores from Thursday.
Statues return to astronomical clock
The astronomical clock at Prague’s Old Town Square is whole again as of Wednesday, when the last statues were returned after two months of repairs. Restorers frequently remove the 15th century statues to inspect their condition as their south-facing orientation causes more weathering. The Vain Man, the Miser, Death and the Turk were restored in January. The statues returned on Wednesday were the Philosopher, the Angel, the Astronomer and the Chronicler. The repairs involved mainly cracks and fading of the gold and paint.
Currently cloudy conditions are expected to gradually improve over the coming days, with daytime highs in the low teens Celsius.