On her first day in office as the new Czech justice minister, Marie Benešová, unveiled her plans for reforming the Czech judiciary. In an interview for the daily Lidové noviny, Benešová said she would like to introduce a three-tier court system, which would make the country’s two high courts and their state attorneys redundant.
New Justice Minister Marie Benešová is considering slimming down the
current justice system, according to an interview published on Thursday in
the daily Lidové Noviny. She says she is considering replacing the current
four-tier system of courts and state prosecution offices, with a three-tier
system that would exclude the general prosecution offices in Prague and
Before any such decision is made, Mrs. Benešová said she will call for an expert analysis of the plan and will respect the majority opinion on the issue.
It is not the first time such a move has been proposed. In 2008, the Civic Democrat Minister of Justice Jiri Pospíšil came out with a similar proposal, but had to drop it due to a lack of funds.
Thousands of people protested in central Prague on Monday night in support
of an independent judiciary and against the planned appointment of Marie
Benešová as minister of justice. Organisers Milion chvilek pro demokracii
said around 15,000 people had taken part in the demonstration entitled
We’re Not Blind.
It was called after Benešová was announced as the new minister of justice just days after police recommended that Prime Minister Andrej Babiš stand trial in a fraud case. She has served as an advisor to President Miloš Zeman, who critics accuse of working in tandem with Mr. Babiš.
The Senate rejected Charles University vice-rector Aleš Gerloch as a
candidate for Constitutional Court judge in a secret ballot on Wednesday.
The law professor had been put forth as a candidate by President Miloš Zeman, who is now expected to suggest another candidate.
Opposition senators object to Mr Gerloch having been a member of the Communist Party. They also say he neglected to note that before 1995 he worked at universities suspected of having improperly awarded politicians and police officials degrees.
The Czech Union of Judges is preparing to upgrade its ethical codex in
connection with suspicions that President Miloš Zeman had tried to
influence the outcome of court rulings in cases that involved the Office of
the President or that he felt strongly about.
It has emerged that the president’ s chancellor met with judges on a number of occasions to inform them about the president’s stance on a given court case.
The president of the Constitutional Court, Pavel Rychetský, stressed in connection with the scandal that he trusted the independence of Czech courts and the said meetings did not automatically mean that judges were influenced by them.
On the other hand, Rychetský said the matter was serious in that such incidents inevitably undermined public trust in the judiciary.
If President Miloš Zeman suggested he would name a judge chief justice of the Constitutional Court in exchange for making certain judicial decisions, he “may have committed a crime” or been planning one. So says Minister of Justice Jan Kněžínek. While the jury is still out, so to speak, a complaint has already been filed against the president’s chancellor.
Former Supreme Administrative Court chairman Josef Baxa told a hearing of
the lower house of Parliament justice subcommittee on Wednesday that
President Miloš Zeman had urged him in private meetings last spring to
arrange for certain decisions at his court.
Mr Baxa told MPs he considered the request inappropriate and that it felt as if the president were offering to appoint him as Constitutional Court chief justice in exchange for achieving certain judicial rulings. Minister of Justice Jan Kněžínek (ANO) said on Thursday that if true, that would amount to a criminal act or attempted criminal act.
The hearing on Wednesday was called over suspicions that the president’s chancellor, Vratislav Mynář, had repeatedly tried to influence the courts in cases relating to the Office of the President or ones in which President Zeman had a vested interest.
Mr Mynář said he and the president had merely acquainted Mr Baxa with their opinions on various matters. He admitted that he had “consulted” with Constitutional Court judges, including Vojtěch Šimíček, presenting the President’s objections regarding planned changes to the Labour Act.
Subcommittee chairman MP Pavel Blažek (Civic Democrats) said that the matter was serious enough to warrant a subcommittee resolution but not to launch a separate investigation.
A former chairman of the Supreme Administrative Court, Josef Baxa, says
President Miloš Zeman’s office has attempted to influence courts with
regard to the outcome of cases. In an interview with newspaper Deník N the
judge said this concerned some of the Czech Republic’s higher courts.
Last week the weekly Respekt reported that President Zeman’s right-hand-man, Vratislav Mynář, had contacted a number of judges, including Mr. Baxa. He confirmed this in the new interview.
Mr. Mynář denies the allegations, saying he had merely been relaying the president’s opinions.
Christmas celebrations in the Czech Republic this year were overshadowed by tragedy. The death of 13 miners killed in a methane explosion at a coal mine in the north-eastern part of the country dominated news coverage over the holidays, as did the deadly tsunami in Indonesia. The victims were remembered in masses over Christmas and people donated money to accounts in aid of the victims.