Motejl bows out after rejection of crucial legislation

The daily newspaper Pravo announced on Monday that Justice Minister Otakar Motejl had resigned--stealing Mr Motejl's thunder somewhat as he made the announcement himself at a press conference later in the day. Pravo's announcement was not the way Cabinet ministers usually bow out, but even though the news did not come from official sources, it was not unexpected. Olga Szantova reports:

The minister of justice had already threatened to resign, when in May opposition MPs first blocked proposals for long-overdue changes in the judicial process. Otakar Motejl announced that speeding up that process was his top priority when he took office in August 1998.

Czech law has many shortcomings, but chief among them is the speed of the judicial process; there are no time limits for court proceedings, and as a result the most complicated cases, especially those dealing with commercial disputes, take many years, rendering the process of justice ineffective.

This state of affairs is frequently criticized and must be rectified before the Czech Republic can join the European Union. In just over two years in office Otakar Motejl has failed to achieve the necessary changes--not because he hasn't come up with viable solutions, but because Parliament has rejected most of his legislation.

Motejl's first defeat came in May, when his proposed changes to the Criminal Code and necessary changes to the Constitution failed to win Parliament's approval. And the same thing happened again in September with a bill aimed at simplifying and speeding up the judicial process. Experts say that the two serious defeats in Parliament had a purely political background, and did not reflect serious shortcomings in Motejl's proposals.

It seems that Otakar Motejl, the only non-party member of the otherwise purely Social Democrat Cabinet, has made too many political enemies; a rather surprising situation seeing that as far as the general public is concerned, he is one of the most popular ministers in the Cabinet. He is also a recognized expert.

The 68-year-old Motejl finished his legal studies in 1955 and worked as a lawyer until 1966, when he joined the Legal Institute at the Justice Ministry. During the Prague Spring, and until 1970 he was a member of the Supreme Court, in charge of rehabilitating the victims of political trials. When the hard-liners took over once more, that post ceased to exist and he renewed his legal practice, defending many prominent dissidents in the communist courts. From January 1990 until he took over the post of Justice Minister, Motejl was chairman of the Supreme Court. In 1991 he received the American Lawyers' Association's annual award for the defense of human rights.

As justice minister he has met with criticism from opposition parties for some of his decisions, including some recent personnel changes. It also seems that the bills he proposed had not been sufficiently discussed by Social Democratic MPs with the other parties represented in Parliament and their approval was not sufficiently prepared. And so, the information that Otakar Motejl had met Premier Milos Zeman on Friday and announced his decision to resign did not really come as a surprise even though the way the public first learned about it was rather unexpected.

Author: Olga Szantová
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