Clash of wills between president and judiciary

Iva Brozova, photo: CTK

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday set an important precedent when it invalidated President Klaus' decision to sack Iva Brozova as head of the Supreme Court in February of this year. The judge ruled that in dismissing Brozova the president had violated the independence of the judiciary. The president in turn accused the judiciary of wanting to usurp political power.

Constitutional Court judges Jiri Nykodym, Stanislav Balik and Dagmar Lastovecka, photo: CTK
The president dismissed Iva Brozova as head of the Supreme Court in February following repeated complaints from then justice minister Pavel Nemec about her alleged poor performance in office. Brozova refused to accept the decision saying that although he had appointed her to the post the president was not in a position to dismiss her from office. She filed a complaint at the Constitutional Court and judge Dagmar Lastovecka ruled in her favour:

"Although the law is vague in this respect we have reached the conclusion that an interpretation which assigns the right to recall the head of the Supreme Court to the president violates one of the basic premises of our legal system: the strict separation of the executive power and the judiciary."

The verdict provoked an angry response from the president, who said the court's ruling undermined the principles of parliamentary democracy in the Czech Republic and accused the judiciary of wanting to be a state within a state:

Iva Brozova, photo: CTK
"This decision implies a dangerous shift from our post 1989 system of parliamentary democracy to a system which gives our courts complete and unlimited autonomy. That does not exist anywhere in the world."

This very public clash of wills has divided lawyers and politicians. A former Constitutional Court judge and an expert on Constitutional matters Vojtech Cepl says he's pleased with the verdict, since Czech politicians are overly inclined to interfere with the judiciary.

"In our country the justice minister has the power to promote or punish judges. We have seen the former justice minister intervene in the case of the prince of Qatar who was accused of sexually abusing underage girls. Our judiciary does not have a separate budget. In general the powers of the judiciary are much weaker than those of the executive branch."

The ruling has opened up an important question - who has the right to recall the head of the Supreme Court? Legal experts say there is no clear answer to that question. Iva Brozova - and other court presidents and deputies - are now in office indefinitely. The new justice minister Jiri Pospisil aims to change that with an amendment to the law. There are now two proposals on the table - either the justice minister could be given the right to recall a judge but allow them to challenge that decision in court or judges in high posts would be appointed for a limited term - five to ten years, as is the case elsewhere in the world.