Now the abolition of associate judges is imminent, as it is proposed by both the Minister of Justice Pavel Blažek (ODS) and the judges. “We are taking this very seriously. I go around the different counties and talk to the judges there and there is one united voice to abolish it everywhere. We now want to prepare a proposal and we have the approval of the judges for this. So we would like to cancel it, we do not consider it a necessary part of today’s court decisions,” Blažek told Právu.
According to him, the new draft law on courts and judges has already been written. “It’s in the final stages. So now I will negotiate with politicians, but that will hopefully be an easier matter, then it would go to the government for approval,” said the minister.
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According to the Ministry’s statistics, there were 5,017 judges last year, of which 4,025 were in district courts. Based on the Law on Courts and Judges, the decision-making activity of the court is always carried out in chambers consisting of the chairman of the chamber (judge) and two associate judges. In them, assistants have the same status as judges, which means that each has one vote when voting on the verdict. At present, assistants work in district courts in labor law cases and in senate criminal cases, as well as in regional courts in first-instance criminal cases.
In this context, the minister noted that he is still considering an option according to which some of the judges would remain at the courts. “My opinion is, and I am still working on it, that there should be a lay element in criminal cases in some cases. It would be a serious criminal matter,” Blažek pointed out.
The Judges Union agrees
Libor Vávra, president of the Union of Judges and former head of the Prague Municipal Court, also agrees with his plan to completely abolish associate judges or possibly keep a part of them for criminal cases.
“My personal opinion is to abolish it completely, but I can imagine an argument that the jury could stay for crimes with a consequence of death. It is not only murders, but also negligent bodily harm resulting in death. But if it’s not even there, I’ll be in favor too,” he told Právu Vávra.
I go round the counties and talk to the judges there and there is a united voice to abolish it everywhere
Just like Tomáš Mottl, an experienced judge from Prague who was approached by the Law, Vávra also believes that, for example, in labor law disputes, judges as members of the senate do not belong. According to both, this also applies to economic cases.
“Ask the assistants to study the conditions of fake transfers around the world, for example in serious economic cases, money laundering. You can’t want that from those people, that’s why it has nothing to do there at all,” says Vávra.
Judge Mottl, who focuses on civil cases, including those related to labor law, is clearly in favor of abolishing associate judges. “Assessors are almost useless in these matters, because it is very often a complex legal issue of which they have practically no knowledge. So, if you want to work with them honestly and well, you have to explain everything to them terribly and sometimes you have to convince them of a statement that they don’t understand, but that is given by law,” stated Mottl.
According to him, a number of cases tend to be dull, and it can be seen from the judges that they are rarely interested in the given case. “You really just go there to hang out,” said Mottl.
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According to Blažek, it is already a problem to select adjutants from among the people, because no one really rushes into this position, either because of the time commitment or the low financial rewards. They currently make only 150 crowns for one full court day, which often involves several hours in the courtroom. A busy person or entrepreneur does not have time for this.
That is why more than half of the judges are over sixty years old, in district courts even more than a third of them are over seventy. “However, those willing retirees, whom I can’t let go of and they are great people, do not represent the average of society, but a specific social group of people who simply have time,” noted Vávra.
Members of the Czech courts elect representatives of individual municipalities and cities, but the number of candidates for election decreases every year. “I hear it even today from mayors that it is a terrible problem for councils to nominate someone at all,” said the minister.
According to his information from judges, the use of associate judges also brings a number of operational problems in individual courts, mainly due to the old age of these people. “Someone gets sick, someone dies, and then the whole negotiation has to be done again,” pointed out Blažek.
According to Mottl, the fact that the use of associate judges in court panels is not so necessary is also evidenced by the fact that only in a few out of hundreds of thousands of cases did they disagree with the professional judge and overrule him when voting on the verdict. This case never happened to him or Vávra.
“It shows the dominance of a professional judge,” thinks Vávra. Mottl agrees: “Once again, this shows that the jurors don’t really have any importance.” However, he added that he knows from colleagues about several cases where judges from the people so-called cut themselves off and overruled the professional.
“However, they had some personal, often irrational, but not legal arguments for this,” concluded Prague’s municipal judge Mottl.
|Average age of judges in Czech courts|
|age||30–39||40–49||50–59||60–69||70 and over|
|district courts||4,00 %||13,74 %||19,40 %||28,15 %||34,71 %|
|regional courts||5,95 %||17,54 %||18,85 %||29,03 %||28,63 %|
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