As of Wednesday, the 15-member Czech Constitutional Court will be temporarily reduced in number when the term of eight of its judges expires. New candidates have been announced by President Vaclav Klaus but have yet to be approved by the Senate, which will take 60 days to approve the candidates. However, some concerns have already been raised about the candidates - and their political affiliations. Mirna Solic reports:
Consisting now only of seven judges, the court will be temporarily unable to make some major decisions, such as abolishing laws. The constitutional judges are appointed for a ten-year term, and there is no restriction on their reappointment. Some senators, however, have doubts about some candidates who may become judges after pursuing a political career. Earlier today I spoke with an independent senator Edvard Outrata on that issue:
"It's not so much that they come from parties, but rather that they were active politicians. So that's a bit of a problem, both formally and conceptually. The formal problem may be that they actually worked on legislation, that they will be called to judge on. More importantly, they bring into the Constitutional Court the knowledge about the political process, and that is maybe good, but also a sort of tolerance for some of the less noble aspects of politicking."
Mr Outrata believes that the previous panel of judges was not biased in president Havel's favour, as some critics claimed.
"I don't think they were biased toward president Havel, I think that what they introduced to our system is a concern for constitutional guarantees directly which is the new element in our law, was ten years ago. And I think that they did that very well and they were really different for example from the Supreme Court in the manner of their judgements and everything as they should be according to the Constitution. Well I'm a little bit worried that this aspect may pitter out, but saying that they were doing Havel's bidding is wrong, I think that people around the present president would like us to believe that."
Mr Outrata doesn't approve cutting the Constitutional Court's budget as part of the Government's public finance reforms package. In his opinion, financial influence seems to be of more importance than belonging to certain political circles:
"Absolutely yes indeed. If you could use the power of purse to constrain judges you could have that effect particularly in our environment. On the other hand, the attempt to cut the judges 13th and 14th pay was quite adequate and shouldn't be treated in this fashion. But, there is that danger, and our politicians are not beyond using it for our advantage. So I would rather see at this moment a complete bar to financial changes."