Bratislava, Slovakia – The Constitutional Court in Slovakia has been forced into near-shutdown over the failure to nominate the successors of 9 judges whose term expired on February 15.
As no replacements have been chosen to succeed nine of the Constitutional Court’s 13 judges, whose 12-year-term expired this month, Slovakia’s highest court now operates with only four judges. The country could face weeks and even months of legal uncertainty, as the Constitutional Court, in charge of ruling whether bills passed by Parliament and judgments of lower courts comply with the country’s Constitution, is forced to a near-halt of its activities and has to work at a minimal regime.
Earlier this month, none of the 37 candidates managed to secure a majority of votes in Parliament, the first step needed before their bid is sent to the desk of the Slovak President, who has the final say in the appointment of Constitutional Court judges.
This unprecedented shutdown was sparked by a political row after former Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Smer party Robert Fico presented his candidacy to lead the Constitutional Court and failed, following junior coalition partner Most-Hid’s refusal to back him.
In response, Smer MP’s boycotted several votes on Constitutional Court candidates, while protesting against the vote being made public.
After failing to join the benches of the Constitutional Court, Robert Fico claimed that the new Constitutional judges should not be appointed by current Slovak President Andrej Kiska, a long-time foe of his who announced last year he would not seek reelection, but by his successor. Next month, Slovaks will elect their new president who is due to take office in June. After officially announcing his bid last month, current European Commission vice-president and Smer nominee Maros Sefcovic is currently leading in polls for the first-round scheduled for March 16.
Andrej Kiska reacted with anger at Smer’s obstructionist strategy: “The ruling majority failed and made one of Slovakia’s main constitutional bodies dysfunctional”, he said, adding that “the constitutional court will be practically dysfunctional from (this) week. In this situation, it is the duty of Parliament to find a way to choose… candidates to be constitutional judges as soon as possible”.
As commentators point out, “Smer’s decision to back its leader and hobble Slovakia’s constitutional court fed into fears for judicial independence around the region, as nationalist leaders in Poland, Hungary and Romania seek more control over their law courts”.
As Slovakia commemorates the one-year anniversary of the murder of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kušnírová, which sparked mass street protests and forced Robert Fico out of office, the latest developments will undoubtedly further harm the public’s trust in its politicians and representatives.