Justice Ministry releases list of ex-communists among Czech judges and prosecutors

The Czech Justice Ministry has placed online a list of currently serving judges and prosecutors who were members of the totalitarian Communist Party. The move was forced by the country’s Constitutional Court which recently ruled that judges’ communist past could influence their reasoning today. Around 1,000 former Communist Party members among the Czech judiciary find themselves on the list whose practical implications are yet to be explored.

The list suggests that out of the country’s 3,000 or so current judges, more than 600 were at some point members of the totalitarian Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. This is also true of nearly 30 percent of the 1,300 or so state prosecutors.

The higher you look within the Czech judicial hierarchy, the greater the number of ex-communists. For instance, all the top judges at Prague’s High Court are former party members, along with several judges at the country’s Supreme and Constitutional courts.

The ministry placed the list on its website in line with a November ruling by the Constitutional Court which said that access to information on judges’ communist past was in the public interest. The court said that ex-communists among the judges might have values different from those of a democratic state, which could influence their decision making.

Jiří Přibáň,  photo: Hospodářské noviny
Jiří Přibáň is a professor of law at Cardiff University, in the UK. He says the purpose of the ruling is unclear.

“Do we implicate here that Communist Party membership is automatically associated with the risk of the lack impartiality of those judges? Or what do we mean to say by this? If you look at the de-communization process in the Czech Republic – the country had one of the most thorough and complex policies in the former Eastern block. But if you look at the top judiciary, you’d be surprised that some of the most important judges protecting democracy had been party members.”

Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil believes the move will bring no major changes to the functioning of the Czech judiciary. He said he expected only a few petitions might appear calling judges’ impartiality into question. However, Jiří Přibáň says we can expect many cases where the concerned party will object to a particular judge, in view of his or her communist past.

“It can lead to many objections or simply to the exclusion of the judges who used be party members not just from cases dealing with our communist past but also from general cases, as attorneys and solicitors can now raise the objections of impartiality. So I think that the procedural implications can be fundamental in the future.”

The Justice Ministry has meanwhile had to apologize to several judges who appeared on the index although they were never members of the Communist Party. Ministry officials also admit the list is not complete as they sometimes had to rely – among other sources – on judges’ own honorary declarations.