Strasbourg, 7 March 2005
CCJE (2005) 22
Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE)
Questionnaire on theme “Justice and society”: Reply submitted by the delegation of Slovak Republic
A1.: Yes, there are mechanisms in place aiming at informing the general public about the judicial system.
Justice users may obtain information in brochures which contain necessary information about the structure of the judiciary. Various institutions as part of their activities publish materials for the general public containing information related to how one can apply his/her rights at the court. In addition to that, the Ministry of Justice has its website with detailed information aimed at informing the public.
There is a special act on free access to information which was adopted in 2000. Based on this act, state authorities, including courts, are obliged to inform natural persons and legal entities about their activities. The Ministry of Justice, as a state authority, has the same duty. The Ministry shall publish reports on its programmes and schemes as well as the wording of each draft law.
On its website, the Ministry of Justice of the Slovak Republic has detailed information about all district and regional courts. The Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic has its own website. The Ministry’s website contains detailed information on its legislative activities. On the website, one can find information about the applicable civil law, list of executors, notaries, legal experts and interpreters, and their activities. There is an entire Commercial Register, Commercial Journal, and legislation of the European Union. In its organisational structure, the Ministry of Justice has a special editorial section. Via the website, the section informs the public about all laws published in the Collection of laws of the Slovak Republic. The Ministry also publishes its specialised journal “Justičná revue“, both as a printed copy and on-line.
Citizens can use a special on-line service which has been established at the website of the Ministry in order to provide to citizens information on how to file a complaint at the court (motion for proceedings), what kind of information such complaint shall contain, where to send it, as well as the information on courts' jurisdiction. One can also learn how to make an appeal, file a complaint, what are court fees or when a citizen can be freed from the court fees.
In addition to the on-line service, the Ministry of Justice has established special offices to provide free legal advice. Such office can be found at the Ministry of Justice and also at each regional court (there are eight regional courts). These offices provide legal advice in the area of civil, family and labour law. It is provided by the ministry staff, not by judges. The Ministry of Justice and the Slovak Bar Association have concluded an agreement based on which, since 1999, members of the Chamber also provide legal advice to citizens in social need. Based on a similar agreement concluded with the Bratislava Faculty of Law, similar legal service is provided by the Faculty of Law.
The Ministry of Justice regularly publishes its „Annual Report of the Ministry of Justice of the Slovak Republic“ The report includes information about all cases which reached the courts and number of decided matters as well as the number of matters pending before the courts. The report also includes average length of proceedings broken down into groups according to the type of agenda; e.g. number of cases pending for more than 6 months to 1 year, from 1 year to 2 years and over 2 years.
The Association of Slovak Judges has its own link on the website of the Ministry of Justice via which the Association channels information about its activities to the public. About two thirds of all judges in Slovakia are members of the Association. Its main objective is to contribute to higher legal awareness of the public.
As far as the extra-judiciary resolution of disputes is concerned, a completely new law was adopted in 2004 - the act on mediation, which shall provide for an alternative resolution of disputes. The website of the Ministry of Justice brings information on this act and also includes the list of mediators, mediation centres and institutions dealing with training of mediators.
A.2.: I addition to the above described channels aimed at informing the public, each natural person or legal entity may request information at the Ministry of Justice, according to Act No. 211/2000, Coll. on free access to information.
At the beginning of 2005, the Ministry of Justice published the Report on the Development and Activities of the Judiciary in the Slovak Republic, specifically focusing on causes of delays in court proceedings. The report shall be discussed at the meeting of the Judicial Council of the Slovak Republic. The Judicial Council of the Slovak Republic has its own website. According to Act No. 185/2002 Coll. on the Judicial Council of the Slovak Republic, the Council shall publish on its website the minutes from its meetings and all adopted resolutions no later than 24 hours after their adoption. The Judicial Council has been doing so and thus its website serves as another channel of informing the general public and interest groups about the judicial system.
A.3.: Judicial decisions in their explanatory part should be of educational nature.
The Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic issues its own publication called „Collection of opinions of the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic and judgements of the courts of the Slovak Republic". In addition to the opinions and decisions adopted by he Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic, the collection may include also judgements of courts of lower instance. Only those judgements can be published which have been approved for publication by one of the four boards of the Supreme Court, according to their specialisation (criminal, civil, commercial or administrative board). The above mentioned collection is accessible both to the community of legal experts and the general public. It is distributed via the Post Press Service (Poštová novinová služba).
A.4.: Yes, university programmes include description of the judicial system, organisational structure of the judiciary and visits to courts. In Slovakia, there are 5 law schools. With some of them, the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic and the Ministry of Justice have concluded agreements on cooperation. The Supreme Court have concluded such agreement with the Bratislava Faculty of Law. Based on this agreement, the Supreme Court has internships for students of the law school and enables groups of students to see court hearings. Based on this agreement, student organisations orchestrate model hearings which are held under the patronage of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic. Student competitions in model hearings in various areas of law take place at the regional courts. Secondary school and university students outside law faculties can visit hearings at regional and district courts as organised groups.
A.5.: Individual courts do not have such programmes.
B.1.: Until 2004, The Ministry of Justice provided training programmes in deontology for judicial applicants and junior judges, the aim of which was as described in B.a) of the Explanatory Note. The training included various model situations aimed at psychological testing of judicial applicants and junior judges (up to 5 years of being in the function of a judge) and their abilities to deal with stress situations which might lead to inappropriate conduct. The aim of the training was to train the trainees in the process of self-management and strengthening their own authority. The aim of these training programmes was to reinforce judges' abilities to act in an impartial manner in any situation. In September 2004, the Judicial Academy was established and assumed responsibility for the preparation of such programmes; they have been included in the educational plans of the institution. The training itself should be carried out under the assistance of external lecturers and senior judges from courts of higher instance.
The equipment of hearing rooms at the courts has been defined in the instruction of the Ministry of Justice, and shall comply with the conditions described in B.b) of the Explanatory Note. It means that the setting of the hearing room itself shall not imply inequality of arms, on the contrary. Provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure as well as the Code of Criminal Procedure are written in such a manner as to eliminate concerns of the parties of religious bias. According to the applicable provisions, the witness oath has been replaced by the instruction of the witness. As far as the newly drafted amendment of the Criminal Code is concerned, it is being considered to introduce the witness oath in criminal proceedings.
As mentioned above, those in social need can be provided with a free legal advice. In criminal proceedings, in case of a necessary defence the costs of which are borne by the state, the court may decide that the defendant is entitled to a free defence, depending on his/her property. In such case, the defendant shall not be instructed to pay the defence fees to the state; the state shall bear the costs and pay the fee to the lawyer.
B.2.: No group has been excluded from training programmes aiming at the education of judges. Training is compulsory for judicial applicants. It is optional for the judges holding functions. A judge, however, is responsible for his/her own education and training and the using of opportunities of education. As part of his/her duties, a judge shall make use of his/her expertise and experience, and make contributions to the preparation of judicial applicants and junior judges.
The administrative apparatus takes training programmes into consideration, as these programmes concern civil servants who have the duty to educate themselves and regularly take part in tests.
C.1.: According to Act No. 385/2000, Coll. on judges and lay judges, a judge shall refrain from making public statements related to cases pending before court.
C.2.: In order to safeguard communication between courts and the public and the media, the institute of court spokespersons has been introduced. To this end, the Ministry of Justice of the Slovak Republic issued an instruction specifying the organisation and form of communication of the courts with the public, with the aim to reinforce trust of the public in the court system.
Presidents of regional and district courts shall establish the function of the court’s spokesperson at their courts. This function can be held only by one of the judges of the court. Should a district court not introduce a spokesperson's function, the president of the court or his/her deputy shall take over the function of the spokesperson.
On request of journalists or other persons, court spokespersons shall provide information or explanations to facts related to court’s organisation and activities. Court spokespersons can also initiate the organisation of press conferences or informal meetings with the public.
The Ministry of Justice has issued the rules of communication with the public. The rules must be published in an appropriate manner. The rules are accessible on-line on the website of the Ministry of Justice, but also at the information panels at individual courts.
C.3.: According to the Code of Civil Procedure (Act No. 99/1963 Coll., as amended), the court may exclude the public from a hearing only if a public hearing poses a threat to the protection of classified information, trade secret, important interest of the parties, or morality. According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, a similar provision applies to criminal proceedings. Exceptions to the principle of public proceedings apply only to hearings, not to the pronouncement of the judgement.
According to Section 30, par. 10 of the Act on judges and lay judges (No. 385/2002 Coll.), a judge has a duty to observe reticence, also after his function as a judge is terminated, in matters he has learnt as part of the activities related to the execution of his function. The president of the court can waive this duty for serious reasons and with the consent of the judge. In matters related to voting on judgement, however, the judge cannot be released from the duty to observe reticence.
Act No. 428/2002 Coll. on personal data protection does not allow to make public the name, date of birth and permanent address of a person without the consent of this person. This is respected by the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic when making public the judgements of courts in its Collection of judgements.
As far as judges are concerned, according to the above mentioned act on judges and lay judges, a judge’s face and permanent address cannot be made public without the consent of the judge. This applies also to the members of the judge’s family.
Information on the status of court proceedings may be provided only by a court’s spokesperson – if there is no spokesperson, then the court president or the hearing judge. Information on the status of court proceedings contain only factual details:
- processes which the court has performed or plans to perform,
- hearing adjournment and the reason for this adjournment.
Generally, information may be provided on the importance of a judicial process and the manner in which it is performed.
A special provision applies to criminal proceedings. According to Section 8a of the Code of Criminal Procedure, law enforcement agencies inform the public about their activities by means of providing information to the media. When doing so, they take good care not to put in danger the process of clarifying facts that are important in order to assess the case in question, not to make public information about persons who are involved in criminal proceedings as well as information which are not directly related to criminal activities. In such cases, information provision can be refused. It shall be decided individually for a specific case by the presiding judge of the panel or president of the court, or by the spokesperson.
According to Act No. 211/2000 Coll. on free access to information, information that cannot be provided include classified information defined in Act No. 241/2001 Coll. on protection of classified information and listed in the list of classified information. Also, information that cannot be made public include personal data, i.e. information related to the personality and privacy of a natural person. This includes written documentation of a personal nature, portraits, pictures, and visual and auditory recordings related to a natural person. These recordings may be declassified only if it is stipulated by a separate act, or with a prior consent of the person in question.
In line with the above mentioned act on free access to information, the court is obliged to provide information on its activities and organization as follows:
a) way of creation, powers and responsibilities, description of organizational structure;
b) location, time and manner of information acquisition;
information on where applications, motions, initiatives, complaints or other requests can be submitted;
c) location, time and manner of filing legal remedy;
d) procedure which must be maintained when processing requests;
e) overview of provisions regulating court procedures, as well as the rights and duties of natural persons;
f) tariff of fees which are collected by the court for processes and provision of information.
The information which the court can make accessible includes the following:
a) the court's work schedule,
b) the court's organization and structure,
c) list of judges and lay judges according to individual sections,
d) list of judges and interpreters,
e) list of trustees in bankruptcy,
list of notaries and advocates,
f) statistical data, the court’s budget,
g) list of provisions which the court observes,
h) tariff of court fees.
Anybody can make an audio recording of a public court hearing. This ensures freedom of expression and rights to information according to Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. To this end, the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic issued a corresponding decision in 1996.
The right to make an audio recording does not automatically grant the right to use this recording. A difference must be made between an audio recording and an auditory transmission (using the audio recording).
According to Section 12 of the Civil Code:
1. Written documents of a personal nature, portraits, pictures and visual and auditory recordings related to a natural person or his/her expressions may be used only with the consent of this person;
2. Consent is not necessary, if the above mentioned objects are used for official purposes on legal basis;
3. Portraits, pictures, and visual and auditory recordings can be made and used without the consent of a natural person for scientific and artistic purposes, for press, film, radio and television news reporting; however, this kind of use must not be in conflict with justified interests of the natural person.
The manner of using dictaphones, photo cameras and video cameras in court shall be defined by the hearing judge.
In our opinion, the provisions of Recommendations and of the Convention referred to in this paragraph are adequately implemented in our legal system through such laws as the abovementioned laws on free access to information (Act No. 211/2000 Coll.), on the protection of personal data (Act No. 428/2002 Coll.), provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure and the Code of Criminal Procedure, the law on judges and lay judges (Act No. 385/2000 Coll.) as well as the abovementioned law on broadcasting and retransmission (Act No. 308/2000 Coll.) and the related laws.
C.5.: The right to information is guaranteed under the Constitution and the above laws. As mentioned above, specific judges are assigned to act as spokespersons at individual courts. If no judge was designated to act as a spokesperson, this task is performed by the president of the court.
Under the Code of Civil Procedure and the Code of Criminal Procedure, judges may make statements to the press concerning the status of the proceedings. If there is a spokesperson at the competent court, he or she has the right to make statements to the press. As stated above, spokespersons may organise press conferences to this end. They must respect the rights of individuals to protection of personality.
C.6.: The decision to allow making a video recording of a hearing is made by the judge (the presiding judge of the panel) who conducts the hearing. He or she makes the decision on the broadcasting of recorded TV images. The same applies to radio broadcasting. These issues are currently regulated by Section 34 paragraph 4 of Act No. 385/2000 Coll. according to which the judge conducting the hearing decides whether video recordings, video transmissions or audio transmissions can be made from the hearing.
Media broadcasting is provided for by Broadcasting and Retransmission Act No. 308/2000 Coll. According to Section 21 of the Act, in case the media broadcast false or biased data about a legal or a natural person that can be precisely identified, such person has the right to request a retraction free of charge. Upon such request, the broadcasters have the obligation to publish a retraction. Except for the cases set out in the law, broadcasters are not bound to publish a retraction if they can prove that the information concerned is true.
Should a broadcaster refuse to publish the retraction, the decision is made by a court on a motion from the person who requests the retraction.
The primary right in this regard is the right to the protection of privacy and personality guaranteed under the Constitution and the provisions of Section 13 of the Code of Civil Procedure. They provide for the right of natural persons to demand, in particular, that unjustified interference with their right to protection of personality be discontinued, that the consequences of such interference be removed, and for the right to adequate satisfaction. Natural persons have also the right to the compensation for non-pecuniary damage.
The Broadcasting and Retransmission Council may impose administrative sanctions against broadcasters in accordance with the law on broadcasting and retransmission in the form of fines of up to 5 million Slovak crowns.
C.7.: Civil and administrative implications of violations of a person’s reputation are described in paragraph C.6 above. Criminal implications of publishing false data about a person are set out in Section 206 of the Criminal Code concerning the criminal offence of libel and slander. This offence consists in providing such information about a person that is false and that could considerably harm that person’s respect by his or her fellow citizens and, in particular, prejudice his or her professional career, his or her family relationships, or cause that person other serious harm. The penalty for such criminal offences may be an imprisonment sentence of up to two years, or a pecuniary sentence from 5,000 to 5 million SKK. Stricter imprisonment sentences of one to five years are applicable to the offenders who commit such criminal offence using press, film, radio, television or another similarly effective means, e.g. the Internet. Only natural persons are criminally liable for the above offences, as our legal system does not yet provide for criminal liability of legal persons which, however, is to be introduced under the new Criminal Code which is currently considered by Parliament.
C.8.: The Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic issued several decisions concerning the need to ensure adequate balance between the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and information on the one hand and the right to the protection of privacy of persons about whom such information is sought on the other hand. It is recognised that persons who are subject to public interest have a narrower private sphere and, as a result, the level of protection of their personality rights is correspondingly reduced. This means that every public figure must suffer a more intensive scrutiny by the public. However, also these persons are entitled to protection according to aforesaid Section 13 of the Civil Code.
Press conferences of court spokespersons were mentioned above.
C.9.: Serious harm caused as a result of unjustified interference with the right to the protection of personality is not the only and exclusive criterion for the determination of the amount of non-pecuniary damages. The court that decides the award of damages must also consider the circumstances under which the violation occurred, and take into account the personal situation of the victim and the personal and property situation of the person that caused the violation.
In essence, the court has the discretion to determine the amount of compensation. There is no upper limit to compensation. However, the court cannot award a higher compensation than is the amount sought in the action.
C.10.: Spontaneous rectification is not the reason to automatically exclude criminal liability. It may alleviate social dangerousness of the act that violated the right to protection of personality, and the court will have to examine the circumstances of each individual case in order to decide whether the violation of privacy followed by spontaneous rectification constitutes a criminal offence.
C.11.: The Criminal Code allows the seizure of things used to commit the criminal offence, i.e. including a publication containing false information, and also if the case in question constitutes a criminal offence, e.g. the abovementioned offence of slander or libel. The law on broadcasting and retransmission provides for the creation of a Council for Broadcasting, elected by Parliament. The Council, which has 9 members, is not a governmental body. The executive branch has no role in supervising the media.
C.12.: Under the law on the courts, the role of the Judicial Council of the Slovak Republic and judges’ councils within regional courts includes the protection of judges from unjustified attacks. Consequently, these councils may take positions in case of such unjustified attacks against judges by the media. The Association of Slovak Judges and other professional judicial organisations (Section 34 paragraph 5 of Act No. 385/2000 Coll.) can also stand for the protection of judges.
Judges are bound by the duty of discretion concerning matters that are pending before them even if a press campaign has been started against him.
D.1.: Under our legal system, judges have the duty to concisely and clearly explain the reasons for their decisions. Only in certain civil and criminal proceedings they can deliver decisions that contain only the statement without the reasoning. This is the case, e.g., of criminal proceedings held before a single judge, where the criminal offence in question entails an imprisonment sentence of no more than five years, provided that both the accused and the prosecutor have waived the right to appeal, or that they declare within three working days from the pronouncement of the judgment that they are waiving the right to appeal.
Neither the legal community nor the wider community are of the opinion that very short judgments reinforce the authority of courts. They tend to believe the opposite, although the decisions that are too long are not desirable, either.
In his or her decision the judge should also explain and justify the award of damages and orders related to costs of the proceedings.
JUDr. Milan Karabín
Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic,
Member of the Consultative Council of European Judges
Bratislava, February 2005