Judge defies Supreme Court and sets suspected race attackers free

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The four had been accused of standing guard while two of their friends beat the man to the ground with baseball bats and snooker cues. The state attorney, Roma activists and the government's human rights commissioner are outraged, saying the case is a clear miscarriage of justice. Commentator Vaclav Pinkava told Radio Prague's Rob Cameron earlier that it may be time to take a closer look at reforming the Czech judicial system.

Vaclav Pinkava: I think one of the problems is that the whole judicial hierarchy wasn't got rid of and replaced with a new one, and it hardly could have been because you can't just grow judges overnight. But we've inherited a bunch of judges from the old regime who are ensconced in their jobs and are still stuck in the mindset of a sort of totalitarian situation where you pander to the people who pander to you.

Radio Prague: The government has committed itself to tackling racist crime, the state attorneys are filing prosecutions, and then when it comes to the courts it's pretty much a waste of time isn't it?

VP: "Well, I wasn't there, I didn't hear the evidence. There has to be an assumption of innocence in any case, but if it goes as high as the Supreme Court and they find it to be a clear case, then I don't see how the same evidence can be interpreted entirely differently by a lower court. Except for some other reason, and one does begin to wonder whether these people at the local level are not influencing the judge in some way which would in itself be a crime.

RP: You think maybe the judge is afraid for his own safety?

VP: He might be threatened, he might be influenced in other ways. I think there are obviously problems being a judge in a situation where the crime is not considered a crime by a large proportion of the population. If you beat up, that's a crime in law, but in the public mind in depends who's beating up who whether that's a crime or not.

RP: They're actually just accused of being accomplices, let's get that straight. They are just being accused of looking on or preventing other people from coming to the Roma man's aid, which is slightly different.

VP: OK, well I think the point in general is that there is a social climate in which certain crimes are more acceptable than others, and that's the case in every society. And I think there is still a kind of undercurrent of racism being acceptable, as long as it's racism in a particular direction. It's alright to shout abuse at people of one colour, and not for the people of that colour to shout abuse at you.... I think it's a question of the environment in which those decisions are taken.