Judges call for reform of judiciary

The Czech Union of Judges has called for a radical reform of the judiciary. At a press conference in Prague last week the President of the Union of Judges Jaromir Jirsa appealed for media support to put pressure on the country's political leadership to implement long-awaited change.

Speaking to reporters, judge Jirsa said that although politicians paid lip service to the issue, the badly needed overhaul of the Czech judicial system was simply not happening. The existing model, which has been functioning for close to 200 years, reportedly violates the principle of independent courts. By subordinating judges and courts to the justice ministry - and thus to political parties - it leaves them vulnerable to indirect political pressure. For instance, the so-called chief judges who coordinate the work, distribute cases and appoint a commission which deals with complaints from the public are themselves appointed by the government. Although the Union of Judges denied that direct political pressure was ever exerted on the judiciary, they argued that there may be hidden self-censorship and pointed out that the present system was inefficient, slow and cumbersome. Judge Jan Viklicky explains:

"We have heard a lot of critical remarks from abroad, from the EU authorities, but we face a very low political will to make any changes because it is very comfortable for Czech politicians to retain the present judiciary system. Of course, for the benefit of the general public they say that they are doing what they can to improve the judiciary but in fact for them it is very comfortable to maintain the present status quo."

But if they are not actually abusing the system, why is it "comfortable" for them to maintain it?

"Because it means as few complications as possible. To create a new system would mean changing everything - the structure, inner relations. It would require a lot of money and the need to re-define the horrible idea of political responsibility for the judiciary, which is complete nonsense. We are increasingly becoming an island of bureaucracy in Europe because we are the only country in the post communist block which has not enacted the necessary reforms. We are still clinging to our old judicial system. The countries around us all have modern systems, supreme councils for the judiciary and such institutions. We have nothing. We have the same institution as we had before 1989 and indeed in the past 200 years. "

So basically, it is lucky for you that we are joining the EU soon because it will apparently be the main force of change in amending this state of affairs?

"Exactly. That has been my idea these ten or eleven years. "