President vetoes controversial banishment bill

Václav Klaus, photo: archive of the Czech Government

Czech President Václav Klaus on Tuesday vetoed a controversial bill which would give towns the power to banish repeat offenders without permanent residence from their territory for up to three months. Authors of the legislation say it will provide a much needed tool to fight petty crime and misdemeanours. But the president sided with the bill’s critics and said it might be in breach of the constitution.

Václav Klaus,  photo: archive of the Czech Government
Under the draft legislation, people who don’t have permanent residence in a given town could be banished from that municipality for up to three months for repeated offences such as disturbing public order, consuming alcohol in places where it’s prohibited by local authorities, begging and petty theft.

The bill was approved by the lower house last December but rejected by the Senate. MPs then overturned the veto, and sent the bill to the president who on Wednesday vetoed the proposed legislation. In a written statement to the press, the president said the bill was populist, politically motivated and ill-conceived, and could be easily abused.

Mr Klaus also referred to the fact that both the government and the Senate opposed the bill, as did the Czech ombudsman. The lower house, according to the president, should not ignore objections coming from top Czech institutions. David Strupek is a Czech human rights lawyer.

David Strupek
“My opinion is that the decision of President Klaus is the right one. Generally, the question whether the banishment of residence and movement is just or not is an issue of proportionality and it must be always taken into account if the banishment is in proportion with the interests that were violated.”

The bill – considered by some to be directed against Romanies – came from Civic Democrat MP Ivana Řápková who said municipalities often had no means of protecting themselves against repeat offenders. The authorities are often unable to collect fines from people who break local regulations, according to Ms Řápková, and this would give them another tool to fight disturbances of public order and other minor offences. But Mr Strupek points out that while the legislation might help one municipality, it would not address the issue nationwide.

“The question is whether it would help generally because if the person cannot enter part of the city or town, the person can easily commit the same offences in another municipality. It would protect one place but it would not remove the problem.”

Other human rights activists believe the draft legislation, considered by some to be directed against Romanies, would violate the Czech Constitution. Markéta Kovaříková is the head of the human rights group Czech Helsinki Committee.

“It is in breach of the right to free movement and residence as guaranteed by the Czech bill of rights and freedoms. These rights can be limited in specific cases but we do not consider those included in the bill to justify such a move.

“The legislation would also interfere with people’s right to privacy because many people have permanent residence in place where they don’t live, and they could be banished from towns where they live with their families, where they have jobs and so on.”

Earlier this month, 105 MPs across the board voted in favour of the controversial legislation, overriding a Senate veto. The legislation will now return to the lower house which needs 101 votes to overturn the president’s veto as well. If they do, the bill will most likely be disputed at the Constitutional Court.