Strasbourg, 1 February 2005
CCJE (2005) 6
Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE)
Questionnaire on theme “Justice and society”: Reply submitted by the delegation of Czech Republic
The Ministry of Justice provides information pursuant to Act on Free Access to Information and other legal norms, informs about decisions of ECHR, about legislation being prepared, and on other essential topics (e.g. non-obligatory forms for requests to the Commercial Register are provided). Basic statistical information on judicial cases is provided on its website as well, including aggregate database on levels of punishments for particular offences etc.
The courts publish basic information on their websites. Some courts have appointed officials to provide detailed information to the interested public. Certain courts, such as the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court publish all their decisions (and reasoning) on their websites.
The Institute for Criminology and Social Prevention conducts research into the functioning of criminal justice and development of criminal behavior, further information and contacts to experts are available on its website.
Certain NGOs provide consultation service to the citizens as to how proceed in case of judicial proceedings.
Czech Association of Judges1:
The Judicial Academy organizes a number of seminars on these topics for the judges and public prosecutors, Judicial School runs similar seminars for the administrative staff of judiciary and for employees of Probation and Mediation Service. The Czech Chamber of Advocates organizes training initiatives for lawyers. Any court where lay judges are incorporated organizes their systematic permanent training.
Czech Association of Judges:
Some seminars, organized by the CUJ, especially on the theme of enforcement of court decisions, raised a great reception among legal public and businessmen.
Almost at all courts there are people charged with providing information to media and public at large. They inform the interested people on dates of hearings, on results of proceedings, etc. The Ministry of Justice, courts and public prosecutors’ offices are subject to obligations pursuant to Act on Free Access to Information. Information brochures for legal and lay public are published by the Ministry of Justice on various topics as well.
According to Section 8a of the Criminal Procedure Code the bodies active in criminal proceedings inform on their activity by disclosing information to media. Such disclosure may be denied only if
- it would put in danger the elucidation of facts important for the consideration of the case;
- it would cause disclosure of information unrelated to the case about persons subject to criminal proceedings;
- it would breach the presumption of innocence.
Stricter regime is applicable in relation to juveniles. No one may disclose information leading to identification of juvenile person (applies even to publication of judgments in media). (Sections 52, 54 of Act No. 218/2003 Coll.) Non-compliance with these rules is an administrative offence punishable by up to 50 000 CZK.
Making visual records and visual and audio broadcasts from the judicial hearing is allowed only upon approval of the presiding judge (Section 3 of Act on Courts and Judges). It depends on his/her consideration whether making such records or broadcasts would infringe the position of participants or have negative impact on proceedings. The presiding judge may limit making of such records/broadcasts by time or otherwise (such as allowing only the beginning of hearing or the pronunciation of judgment to be recorded, or prohibiting some persons to be filmed – the accused, witness etc.).
See answers above. Upon consent of the presiding judge or public prosecutor the journalists may be allowed to consult the file (Section 65 of the Criminal Procedure Code). The courts have spokespersons designated by the president of the court. Usually, this role is fulfilled by experienced judges or vice-presidents responsible for particular section (penal, civil). Judges may make press statements in person as well, while maintaining neutrality and the rules mentioned above.
TV cameras may be allowed by presiding judge (see C.3 on details). Law does not set special rules for broadcasting of proceedings, but manipulation that is detrimental to court or the parties to the proceedings could result in civil or, in extreme circumstances, even criminal liability of relevant journalist.
Depending on circumstances, such conduct may qualify as an criminal offence of slander under Section 206 para. 2 of the Penal Code, with punishment up to 2 years of imprisonment. (See also C.9 and C.12)
It is also possible to ask for protection under Section 11 of the Civil Code, including compensation, by action for protection of personality. According to Section 13 para 1 of the Civil Code it is possible to demand
- cessation of unlawful infringements of protection of personality;
- removal of their consequences;
- proportional compensation;
- monetary reparation of non-pecuniary damage (in cases of serious harm).
In case of publication of untrue information that may harm relevant person the journalists risk in extreme circumstances the prosecution for slander pursuant to Section 206 para 2 of the Penal Code or administrative sanction (see C.12 on details). It is a criminal offence, where at least indirect intent is required, i.e. the offender knows that such information may be untrue and may harm another person, and is resigned (consentient) as to such consequence. Since the crime depends on communication of untrue fact, the factual nature of information is required, and, consequently, a publication of subjective evaluation or opinion will not be criminalized. The presumption of innocence of persons in temporary custody/detention, i.e. in cases when the penal prosecution was not finished yet, must be always respected. Case law knows several cases of breach of this duty by newspapers, that have been subsequently ordered to cover financial compensation. Also, investigators and policemen must respect the presumption of innocence and take care not to endanger the elucidation of facts in the course of criminal prosecution. Most of their agencies have spokespersons.
According to Section 11 of the Civil Code “the natural person has right to protection of its personality, in particular its life and health, civic honor and human dignity, as well as privacy, its name and the expressions of personal nature”.
Section 13 paragraph 3 of the Civil Code stipulates that “the level of financial compensation for immaterial harm shall be set by court with due regard to the seriousness of actual harm and to the circumstances of the case”.
According to Supreme Court judgment (2003), “financial compensation for undue intervention with the right to protection of personality may be awarded, if moral satisfaction is not sufficient and such undue intervention significantly decreased dignity of natural person or its esteem in society. Such significant decrease shall be determined as immaterial (non-property) harm occurred in the sphere of personality of natural person, which is felt and experienced as serious by such person, due its nature, intensity, repetition, duration and extent of impact of unfavorable consequence consisting in decrease of dignity or esteem in society of such natural person. Although the level of compensation is subject to free discretion of a court, the court shall in any particular case take into account full set of facts and refer to wholly concrete and verifiable criteria in this framework”.
In the cases of infringement of any value protected by Section 11 of the Civil Code the highest actually awarded financial compensations are about 500 thousand CZK, with cases of e.g. disrespect of the presumption of innocence amounting to about 20-30 thousand CZK. The context of the expression is taken into account (i.e. the whole article in newspapers, not only one isolated sentence). Social status of the person in question is taken into account with regard to all circumstances of the case (e.g. the publicly active person should expect public attention and criticisms with regard to its activities etc.).
Such a rectification would not discharge the criminal liability, but could lead to imposition of lighter penalty or even to conviction without penalty. Similarly it would affect the level of compensation, if granted at all.
The Criminal Code contains provision of Section 206 on slander:
(1) Whoever communicates untrue fact (údaj - information, data) about another, which can seriously endanger another person’s respect among his fellow citizens, in particular damage his position in employment or relations with family or cause other significant harm, shall be punished by imprisonment for up to one year.
(2) An offender shall be punished by imprisonment for up to two years and/or by prohibition of (specific) activity, if he commits an act under paragraph 1 by press, film, radio or TV broadcasting or by another similarly effective manner. (NB: last phrase covers e.g. Internet)
According to Section 55 of the Criminal Code may be confiscated a thing that was used or reserved for commission of an offence (such as books, records, films etc.) or that was gained by offender by commission of an offence or as a reward (proceeds of sale of book, royalties etc.).
The offender may also be liable for petty offence under Section 49 of the Act on Transgressions, which prohibits, in its paragraph 1, littera (a) “a harm to the honor of another by libel or exposition to ridicule”. The sanction is a fine up to 1 000 CZK.
Furthermore, civil action may be contemplated, or other sanction under administrative law (by Council for Radio and TV Broadcasting).
Czech Association of Judges:
There is no Supreme Judicial Council or its equivalent as well as political will to create such a body representing the Judiciary. More than 50% of Czech judges are members of CUJ. But, there is an important phenomenon of the CUJ representing significantly higher percentage of opinion of judges by CUJ.
Leading representatives of the CUJ appear frequently in media (newspapers, TV, radio stations), usually commenting on general issues. Their response with regard to particular press campaign against a judge or decision is infrequent.
Czech Association of Judges:
In case of growing attacks of politicians against judges also the CUJ representatives produce more vigorous statements. The position of CUJ belongs to the best achievements in this area in the last 15 years.
The approach of judges is quite individual, some ignore such campaigns, and others express their opinions. In such a case, however, such expression may lead to doubts on impartiality of a judge.
The Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that explanation (reasoning) of the judgment should be succinct. In practice, however, this does not always ensure short and thus clear explanations.
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