Prague court calls on Constitutional Court to throw out entire presidential amnesty

Photo: Filip Jandourek

The Municipal Court in Prague says the entire amnesty announced by President Václav Klaus on New Year’s Day contravenes the Czech constitution – because it had not been previously discussed by the government. The prime minister says the move could open a whole can of worms: If the Constitutional Court agrees, the validity of previous amnesties could also come into question.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
On January 1, President Václav Klaus surprised many by announcing an amnesty that saw over 7,000 prisoners serving short terms released early. More controversially, it also halted cases running for over eight years that could have resulted in jail terms of 10 years or less.

That plank of the amnesty touches on several high-profile cases of alleged massive corruption, many dating back to the days of Wild East privatisation, and was seen by some as a reward for successful obstruction of the judicial process.

Last week a cross-party group of senators filed a challenge to the latter article at the Constitutional Court in Brno, saying it prevented those damaged in such cases from seeking redress.

The Prague Municipal Court has also taken the matter to the Constitutional Court, saying that the entire amnesty is unconstitutional. The justification was written by the chairman of the Prague court, Kamil Kydalka, and appeared on the Constitutional Court’s website on Wednesday.

Justice Kydalka argues that the amnesty is unlawful because it was co-signed by Prime Minister Petr Nečas without consultation with his cabinet colleagues; he says it ought to have been discussed in advance by the government.

Petr Nečas,  photo: Filip Jandourek
This would seem to echo a statement by the head of the Constitutional Court, Pavel Rychetský, who said recently that – in keeping the move from the cabinet – the head of state and the head of government had not adhered to a tradition of many years standing.

If the Constitutional Court does not declare the whole amnesty unlawful, then it should at least declare the article related to halting long-running cases invalid, the Prague Municipal Court’s petition adds.

Prime Minister Nečas was quick to react to Wednesday’s news, suggesting a ruling against the president’s amnesty could open a big can of worms.

“The approach adopted in the case of this amnesty was completely the same as in the case of two previous amnesties. If this procedure were regarded as unconstitutional, then, purely theoretically, the amnesties from 1993 and 1998 could also be called into question retrospectively. Our approach was exactly the same – the government didn’t give its approval in those cases either.”

So what are the chances that the Constitutional Court will uphold this latest legal challenge? Constitutional lawyer Marek Antoš told Czech Television much would hinge on the legal classification of Mr. Klaus’s amnesty.

Václav Klaus,  photo: Petr Novák,  CC 2.5 license
“The amnesty is definitely not a law. It could be some kind of mixed act, but the constitution quite unequivocally speaks about laws. And I think it is not possible to claim that the president, in the form of an amnesty, is issuing a law. I think, therefore, that the [Prague] court is unfortunately not justified.”

The Constitutional Court may consider the petitions from the Prague Municipal Court and the group of senators together, though, as Mr. Antoš says, it is not clear whether it has the authority to review the amnesty at all. Either way, his last major decision as president could still be making headlines after Mr. Klaus steps down in six weeks’ time.