Source: The Slovak Spectator, 9 Feb 2012, by Peter Bagin
RECENT reforms to the Slovak judicial system are supported by a majority of experts, judges and members of the public, as surveyed between December 2011 and January 2012 by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), a think tank.
The revised law on judges and lay judges introduced a regular, five-yearly evaluation of judges and an annual statement of their activities. According to the IVO survey, a large majority of respondents, 81 percent, considered the law change to be correct. Only 4 percent deemed the measure, which was introduced in 2011, to be wrong and 15 percent said they didn’t know how to assess the measure.
The activities of judges were not subject to evaluation before the amendment came into effect, but following its adoption unsatisfactory results by individual judges can result in them being stripped of their functions. Half of the respondents on the survey’s expert panel, 50 percent, considered the change to be correct and 43 percent deemed it somewhat right. Only 7 percent of the experts polled viewed the measure as wrong.
A majority of the judges surveyed also backed the amendment. The survey found that 62 percent of them considered evaluation of their work to be right and 20 percent thought it was somewhat right. Only 18 percent of judges participating in the survey disagreed with the duties imposed by the amendment.
IVO also canvassed opinions about an amendment which allows judges to instruct the relevant authorities to provide information that citizens require. The view of the public indicated that positive expectations prevail, with 53 percent believing that the measure would facilitate access to information, while 29 percent did not expect any change, and 5 percent believed it would have a negative impact. Thirteen percent of respondents had no opinion.
The experts were most optimistic about this amendment, with 96 percent of them viewing the changes positively; similarly, 74 percent of the judges polled expected the situation to improve following the adoption of the measure.
Finally, IVO asked the three groups whether they thought the appeal by the president of Slovakia’s Supreme Court, Štefan Harabin, to the European Court of Human Rights is justified. He is seeking to overturn a ruling issued by the Constitutional Court last year in which he was censured for not permitting auditors from the Finance Ministry to conduct an audit of the Supreme Court’s financial accounts and ordered to take a one-year, 70-percent salary cut.
Half of the respondents viewed Harabin’s action as being completely or to some degree unjustified, compared to 28 percent who saw it somewhat or completely justified, while almost 22 percent of those polled expressed no opinion. Opinions among the judges were more varied: 15 percent deemed his action completely justified and 18 percent as somewhat justified, meaning that over 32 percent of judges surveyed agreed with Harabin. On the other hand, 35 percent of them considered Harabin’s actions to be totally unjustified and 23 percent as somewhat unjustified, which put those who oppose his approach at almost 59 percent. Nine percent of the judges in the survey declined to answer.
The research project, entitled The Slovak Judiciary Through the Eyes of the Public, Experts and Judges, consisted of several public opinion polls and surveys that examined the views of expert and judges via two special panels. The expert panel included 28 members of academia who are studying the rule of law at universities and academic institutions, and researchers who are involved in non-governmental organisations, legal practices and the media. The judges’ panel, meanwhile, consisted of 34 judges working at different levels of the judiciary.