Fremr’s appointment to Constitutional Court on hold as new facts emerge

Robert Fremr

The controversy surrounding the nomination of Robert Fremr to the panel of Constitutional Court judges has flared up once again. New allegations have surfaced that he may have knowingly served the regime in over 100 communist-rigged trials pre-1989 and lied about his past in Senate hearings.

The country’s communist past throws a long shadow and less than 48 hours before Fremr’s planned appointment, new information emerged suggesting that that in the years 1983 to 1985 Fremr had tried over 140 emigres, handing out verdicts in communist-rigged trials that stripped some of them of property and resulted in their families being persecuted by the secret police. Senator Hilšer told Czech Radio the Senate would never have approved his nomination in light of this information.

Marek Hilšer | Photo: Martin Vaniš,  Radio Prague International

“We felt it was our duty to pass on this information to the president. I want to point out moreover that during the Senate hearing Judge Fremr withheld this information from us, and led us to believe that he had only been involved in one communist-rigged trial and had been unaware of the fact that it was rigged.”

The claims are now to be investigated by the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of the Crimes of Communism, and although they emerged before Fremr’s planned appointment the revelations are a blow to President Pavel, whose team of advisers screened and approved Fremr’s nomination.

At a press briefing on Monday President Pavel said the appointment was postponed indefinitely.

“I will not make a decision until I have all the relevant information available on this case. I want to get a clear picture of the extent of Judge Fremr’s involvement in these cases, consult the matter with experts and hear their recommendations.”

Pavel Rychetský,  Petr Pavel and Josef Baxa | Photo:  Patrik Uhlíř,  ČTK

Historian Petr Blažek says that the cases in question leave little room for doubt.

“The verdicts in these cases were unconditional and the punishment generally involved confiscating family property which touched the lives of many people. It would be hard to imagine greater political involvement. Most of these people were rehabilitated after 1989.”

Petr Blažek  (left) | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

The case has once again highlighted the problems stemming from the country’s communist past. The majority of experienced judges started their careers under communism and after 1989 it was not possible to establish a brand new judiciary –with the emphasis being on weeding out those who had served the regime in political trials. This was not always successful. And there are now questions as to whether the panel of judges in the highest court in the land is morally beyond reproach.

Jiří Přibáň | Photo: Jana Přinosilová,  Czech Radio

Prof. Jiří Přibán from Cardiff University says that in his view the main thing now is whether the respective judge is morally upright.

“I think that the dilemma we face here is more about the present than the past. Whether the judge in question told the Senate the truth or whether he lied about his past. Over 300,000 people fled communist Czechoslovakia and all of them were prosecuted. That would effectively eliminate all the judges who served pre-1989”.

As if to confirm this -when asked about his own past cases by reporters, the court’s newly appointed president Josef Baxa, said that he did not remember having tried emigres, though there may have been one case involving them.

Robert Fremr’s nomination now seems highly unlikely, but some senators argue that double standards should not apply and if there are other Constitutional Court judges whose slate is not clean the president should call on them to resign. Because under Czech law they cannot be dismissed.

Josef Baxa | Photo: Kateřina Šulová,  ČTK