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EC criticises Slovakia for its state of judiciary

The recently published rule of law report mentions the fight against corruption, among others.

Slovakia has problems with its state of judiciary and corruption.

This stems from the very first report on the state of rule of law in all 27 EU member states, published by the European Commission and presented by EC Vice President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová.

Promising results in the judiciary

Efforts have been undertaken in recent years to improve the quality and efficiency of the Slovak justice system and have started to show some promising results, according to the report.

“However, the justice system is characterised by a very low level of perceived judicial independence among both the general public and businesses,” the report reads.

Since 2019, this has been exacerbated by serious concerns about the full integrity of the judiciary and prosecution services.

The government appointed in March 2020 announced a range of reforms in sensitive areas, such as the appointment procedures for members of the Judicial Council, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court as well as the Prosecutor General and introducing a fixed retirement age for judges, the report pointed out.

Fighting corruption as priority

The fight against corruption has been identified as one of the key priorities in the governmental programme statement. The government has announced a range of reforms to improve the situation.

The capacity to detect, investigate and prosecute corruption offences is hampered by a lack of resources and dedicated analytical expertise in both the Special Prosecutor’s Office and the National Criminal Agency, as well as difficulties in obtaining evidence, according to the report.

Lobbying activities are not regulated and ‘revolving doors’ provisions are weak. New legislation concerning asset declarations and conflict of interests of members of government and other public office-holders took effect at the beginning of 2020, the report continues.

“Slovakia’s Constitution and secondary legislation provide a robust legal framework for the protection of freedom of expression, the right to access public information, the establishment of structures to ensure media pluralism and press rights,” the EC report stated.

Media ownership a problem

However, concerns have been raised about a lack of robust rules for ensuring the transparency of media ownership.

“The assassination of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée in 2018 is widely considered to have marked a genuine turning point in Slovak society and raised awareness about the need to improve the safety of journalists,” the report pointed out.

As regards the system of checks and balances in Slovakia, there is a need to improve the legislative process by strengthening the involvement of stakeholders and civil society and making better use of the existing impact assessment framework.

Independent authorities such as the National Centre for Human Rights or the Public Defender of Rights have an important role to play in securing checks and balance, but need to be fully mandated and equipped to effectively exercise their roles.

The government announced plans for reforms to strengthen rule of law, in particular reforms to increase the powers of the Constitutional Court, the report reads.

The rule of law as a subject of public debate has gained in importance over the last years, which could foster the emergence of a more robust rule of law culture.