Cabinet Approves Range of Judicial Changes

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Stock photo by TASR

Bratislava, March 1 (TASR) – The Government on Wednesday approved a host of changes to legislation governing the judiciary, which include introducing a regional judicial selection, the assessment of judges’ performance by dedicated commissions, and a more effective system of disciplining offending judges.

The bill, which was authored by the Justice Ministry, is designed to further streamline the judiciary and improve access to justice.

Justice Minister Lucia Zitnanska (Most-Hid) is looking to expedite the arrival of new judges to the courts, a process that has all but stalled in the wake of the security clearances of judges. Currently, the vetting process can take up to a year, but the changes are expected to slash the ‘waiting times’ all the way to two months.

The current practice of district courts having discretion in choosing judges is to be replaced by a region-based selection. At least once a year, selection procedures will be held in all of Slovakia’s eight regions on the same day, which will result in candidate lists for judges.

The successful applicants will then be subjected to security clearances and pre-judge training. As soon as a vacancy at a court in the region concerned becomes available, the candidate who scored the highest in the selection will be proposed for appointment by the president. If a prospective judge decides to turn down the placement, such as because they consider a particular court to be “less appealing”, they may risk removal from the list.

Meanwhile, the judges’ work will be assessed by three-member regional commissions that will be dedicated solely to this task. Each commission will assess the work of judges from a different region, thus removing the current practice whereby judges evaluate each other’s performance alongside their regular duties. The assessments will be made public. After three consecutive negative assessments, a judge may be removed from office.

Changes to disciplinary proceedings also mainly seek to speed up the process. The Judicial Council has been tasked with overseeing the smoothness of the process.

The bill, which is intended to come into effect as of July, has been drafted in conjunction with the Judicial Council, the judges’ association and NGOs. The Judicial Council, the Supreme Court and the Slovak Judges Association have all voiced their reservations regarding the bill.