Fremr turns down constitutional judge nomination

Robert Fremr

No sooner was Robert Fremr nominated as one of three new constitutional judges when accusations began to surface about sentences he handed out pre-1989. Now he has made the decision to step down, although he had already been approved by the Senate. But questions remain about what this means for choosing another candidate and the pasts of other key figures in the judiciary.

Robert Fremr | Photo: Roman Vondrouš,  ČTK

The vice president of the Prague High Court Robert Fremr announced at a press conference on Monday that he would not be accepting the position of judge at the Constitutional Court.

He has been dogged by criticism since his nomination for the post, first, for sentencing three young men to prison in 1988 in a Communist rigged trial, then for sentencing over 170 people for illegally emigrating during the communist era.

He told reporters on Monday that he was turning down the role due to media pressure, as well as because of his desire not to let the public mistrust that had accompanied his nomination to jeopardise the credibility of the Constitutional Court.

This could be seen as somewhat of an embarrassing blunder for President Petr Pavel, who nominated him, and for his advisory team, who failed to properly screen the candidate. The president’s spokesperson, Markéta Řeháková, says that the head of state accepts and respects Fremr’s decision.

“The president appreciates the fact that Robert Fremr is trying, in the eyes of the public, to avoid any doubts about the trustworthiness and moral integrity of the judges of the Constitutional Court. Mr Fremr told the president about his decision in advance, and he unconditionally accepted it.”

However, the president did not accept the resignation of his advisory team, who offered to step down over the blunder. Ivana Janů, a judge and member of Pavel’s advisory panel, told Czech Radio that the team didn’t know about the cemetery case when they recommended Fremr for the post.

“The president didn’t know about it either, so it was something completely unexpected. But it’s necessary to say that the decision about the nomination is crucial – the justice system and public trust in the judiciary depends on it.”

Marek Hilšer, one of the people who first drew attention to Fremr’s sentencing of emigres in the 1980s, said he thinks Fremr made the right decision.

“I felt that he understands the situation, that he understands that a large part of Czech society doesn’t trust him because of what happened pre-1989, and that he understands that it isn’t suitable for someone in the position of judge at the Constitutional Court.”

Robert Fremr | Photo: Roman Vondrouš,  ČTK

However, Ondřej Preuss, a constitutional law expert at Charles University in Prague, says that the scandal over Fremr’s past came as a surprise to many:

“I have to say, it was a surprise for almost everybody because many, many judges and other people who were somehow involved in the communist regime continued to perform under the new constitution and new regime. So it’s kind of a surprise that this question has been re-opened now, and I think it was even a surprise for Robert Fremr. We have to understand that in the recent presidential elections, we had two candidates in the second round, both of whom were members of the Communist party back in the 80s.”

Jan Kysela, another member of the president's advisory team, said that to avoid such accusations in the future, the next candidate nominated by the president will probably have to be someone who hadn't started their career before 1989, as it would likely not be possible to find someone of that age cohort and with the same level of experience who wouldn't somehow be implicated.

Author: Anna Fodor | Source: Český rozhlas
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