Government unveils ambitious reform of justice system

Photo: CTK

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil unveiled ambitious plans to overhaul the Czech Republic’s inefficient and painfully slow justice system on Monday. The plans – ranging from allowing people to communicate by email to reshuffling the way courts are staffed and run – are set to be introduced gradually over the next two years.

Jiri Pospisil, photo: CTK
The Justice Ministry claims the situation is improving, but there are still severe problems in the Czech justice system. Chief among them is the time it takes the courts to reach a verdict. In commercial law, for example, Czech courts take an average of between 2-3 years to resolve a business dispute. Around 35 % of commercial disputes currently being dealt with in court have been heard for more than five years. The European Court of Justice in Strasbourg says any case that exceeds 3.5 years is excessively long, and there have been a raft of successful suits filed against the Czech state with the European Court.

The problem is not a shortage of judges. In fact, according to international statistics, the Czech Republic has one of the highest number of judges per head of population in the world. At the moment, the figure is 3,028 judges in a population of over 10 million, which amounts to one judge per 3,400 people. Either they’re not working very hard, or the system itself is inefficient and needs reform. The Justice Ministry clearly believe it’s the latter.

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
Prime Minister Topolanek used the words “fast, user-friendly and transparent” when he unveiled a summary of the reforms at a conference in Prague on Monday. One of the most striking proposals is the digitalisation of the justice system, allowing faster and more efficient communication with the courts. The first stage of project – including a system where you can file some legal papers via the Internet and follow the progress of your case online - began this year. In January, the Justice Ministry wants to unveil an online register of insolvent companies. The culmination of the project will be a completely digital record of court proceedings, which should be running by 2010 at the latest.

The government also wants to make the courts run more efficiently. To that end, the Justice Ministry is planning an audit of people working in the courts, particularly administrative staff and plans to increase the number of senior court officials. It wants to change the composition of tribunals set up to examine mistrials and mistakes made by judges, allowing laymen such as lawyers and notaries to sit on such tribunals, rather than just other judges. That’s meant to improve the impartiality of such tribunals, which would also be allowed to dismiss judges.