By: Anamarija Novak
Confidence in the Slovenian judiciary is falling sharply. Undoubtedly, matters such as the Balkan warriors, Novič, Patria and many other more or less high-profile cases have contributed to this. There is also a suspicion of corruption in these trials.
Remember the so-called Friends in Bankruptcy affair in 2012, which resonated after media reports about allegedly controversial bankruptcy proceedings, in which judges allegedly attributed controversial awards to the bankruptcy trustees they are friends with. The Ministry of Justice and Public Administration then reported six trustees – Melita Butar, Igor Bončina, Maksimiljan Galet, Marko Drobež, Mojca Breznik and Katarina Benedik – for alleged breaches of bankruptcy law. Judges of the District Court in Ljubljana Dido Volk, Jelko Rozman and Gregor Collauti, who cooperated with them in the proceedings, were also examined. A year later, the Board of Trustees acquitted the trustees. The assessments of the Judicial Service, prepared by the Personnel Council of the Ljubljana High Court for three judges at the request of the then President of the Supreme Court Branko Masleša, also showed that they could not be accused of anything. The Personnel Council of the High Court punished Volk with a negative grade at the time, which stopped her promotion in 2013, whereas Rozman received a positive rating without any obstacles to her promotion. But both remained judges of the economic department. Gregor Collauti also remained a judge of the economic department.
Balkan warriors from prison
Recently, the Supreme Court also announced on its website that convicts in the Balkan Warriors case had been released from prison for overturning first- and second-instance court rulings for relying on evidence obtained in violation of constitutionally guaranteed human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, the Supreme Court did not publish the verdict and the separate opinion of the Supreme Judge Barbara Zobec, who opposed the decision of the majority. The fact that they do not inform the public about the fact, judgments and dissenting opinions, but try to influence the media and the public with special statements, has recently become a common practice of the Supreme Court. We have already written that the web portal Siol.net pointed out that in the Balkan warriors case, District Judge Saša Kmet, who was assigned to the Supreme Court for assistance in October this year, played an important role in the decision of the Supreme Court. Similar assignments in the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court do not mean, and there have been none in the last ten years. Prior to that, the requirements for the protection of legality were assigned to an expert associate, David Špernjak, who was elected a judge at the District Court in Ljubljana last year and was no longer able to work. Špernjak and Kmet are career-related to the Supreme Judge Primož Gorkič, who was elected last year in an unusual way. Gorkič did not have a day of judicial experience before being elected supreme judge, and MPs rejected him as a candidate. But they had to repeat the vote.
At Gorkič’s unusual second election – when the MPs had to repeat the vote on the proposal of the Judicial Council, in which they rejected Gorkič for the first time because the MPs of the Luka Mesec’s Levica allegedly made a mistake when they did not support him – we warned that for the law firm Čeferin, the candidate for supreme judge had written an opinion a decade earlier that the evidence against Balkan warrior Dragan Tošić was obtained illegally in Slovenia and other countries because the police did not have proper court orders. According to this expert opinion, the court acquitted the accused at first instance. But Gorkič’s opinion did not prevail at the time. The High Court overturned the acquittal and found that the evidence had not been obtained illegally. Tošić and his colleagues were eventually sentenced to long prison terms, with a few other complications. Now the Supreme Court, where Gorkič was elected to parliament last year, has annulled all this again. Gorkič did not participate in the ruling senate as the supreme judge.
Was it in a hurry?
According to Siol.net, the lawyers reminded them that the senate of the Supreme Court, headed by Branko Masleša, was in a hurry to make decisions on the days when MPs extended the statute of limitations in the criminal law in case of such decisions. They were extended from two to five years. Before the court’s decision, Masleša even received a written protest that it is not possible to read the documents and decide so quickly. But he did not take that into account. The statutes of limitations, which would put the so-called Balkan warriors at a disadvantage in the event of a retrial if the Supreme Court overturned the verdicts, was extended by the National Assembly on November 18th, 2021. The amendment came into force on December 15th last year. The demands of the Balkan fighters for the protection of legality were decided by the Senate of Supreme Judges, chaired by Branko Masleša, which also included Mitja Kozamernik as rapporteur and Kristina Ožbolt, Barbara Zobec and Marjana Lubinič as members. Kozamernik has had a lot of work to do in recent years at the War Crimes Tribunal in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and probably because of that, he was eventually assisted in his work by the reassigned Trbovlje District Judge Saša Kmet. But such assistance has not been common so far.
Obsolescence also in other cases
However, on December 22nd last year, the Novič case also became obsolete. It seems that the real killers and instigators can finally breathe a sigh of relief, and all this is once again casting a bad light on the Slovenian judiciary. The same legal remedy was used in the Patria case, and in both cases, we find Branko Masleša. A criminal judge who does not have to show his diploma as according to the President of the Supreme Court Damijan Florjančič it is of confidential nature. In response to the position of the Judicial Council, which responded to the Supreme Court’s tweet regarding Masleša’s diploma, Florjančič wrote, among other things: “Data on the level of education, functional and special knowledge, participation in various forms of advanced training and other qualifications are therefore confidential, so we did not provide diplomas and certificates of the state legal examination (PDI) in the case of Supreme Judge Branko Masleša to the public or interested media until the judge gives his consent.”
Prosecutors are also a serious problem
In the case of abuses in the judiciary, the indiscriminate protection of prosecutors should also be noted, as former judge Zvjezdan Radonjić recently pointed out: “The famous independence of the state prosecutor’s office in relation to the executive branch is a curtain to cover up many bad, professionally controversial, or even criminal decisions of the prosecutor’s office or individual prosecutors, which is what left-wing political parties like to point out. In these political options, with non-selective protection of the position of prosecutors, they knowingly assist in concealing the illegal work of the prosecution,” Zvjezdan Radonjić told the weekly Reporter, adding that all over the world, politics controls the work of the prosecutor’s office, especially if there are serious suspicions that there is an abuse of office. Usually, a single controversial decision detected by a politician blows away the head of prosecutors. “But if something is good for the UK or Germany – it is not good for us.”
Judges’ property public?
We have already pointed out that in Slovenia the judiciary is hidden from the public, and in Croatia even the property of judges is public. We also cannot be surprised that the public rightly raises the question of the possible corruption of the Slovenian judiciary, which refuses to accept even responsibility, in the face of some controversial judicial decisions, which we also mention in the present article. Branko Masleša, the former president of the Supreme Court, even stated during his tenure that there is no objective responsibility in the judiciary because judges are independent in their work.
The southern neighbours, whom Slovenia has long looked down on, have long ago put things in order and provided their citizens with an insight into the property of judges. Talks about whether it should be public how much a judge (and even his spouse) has, began half a decade ago, and a compromise was reached this year. Initially, it was thought that a list of their assets would be available online, but in March the government’s proposal that the judiciary must provide information on a judge’s assets to anyone requesting them within eight days was in force.
The Croatian media took advantage of this opportunity and recently published in detail the assets of all court presidents. Some courts have gone even further in their transparency (to dispel any doubts about their independence and non-corruption) and allowed all judges’ assets to be published online. Such an example is on the portal http://www.znet.hr/imovinske-kartice-sudaca for a judge in Pula, where the so-called property cards of judges are published. Data from their partners and children are also published. For now, we can only dream of such transparency of Slovenian judges in a country on the sunny side of Alps.