By: Sara Bertoncelj / Nova24tv
One of the main points of reference of the European Convention on Human Rights is fair trial. The understanding of this fair trial is based on a fair and lawful court, on a fair and lawful court process. The very concept of the rule of law focuses on a fair judge, and this understanding has also been adopted by EU courts. If there is any doubt as to whether a judge is a lawful judge – that is, whether he was elected and appointed to his office in accordance with the law and whether he is an honest judge in terms of impartiality, professionalism and other personal qualities, the integrity of a judge – this represents a serious problem. This issue is certainly at the heart of the issue of the rule of law, the rule of law of a country – in this case Slovenia. However, since the state of justice is as it is, according to Zvjezdan Radonjić, not much will happen. The former judge emphasised that a comprehensive, radical, even revolutionary change in the prosecution and judiciary would be needed and pointed out that we should not focus solely on the case of Branko Masleša, because there are at least 50 to 60 judges in Slovenia who are problematic.
If there is any doubt as to whether a judge is a lawful judge – that is, whether he was elected and appointed to his office in accordance with the law and whether he is an honest judge in terms of impartiality, professionalism and other personal qualities, the integrity of a judge – this represents a serious problem. This is certainly a problem that can affect any judge in Slovenia, but if it is a former president of the Supreme Court, we have a serious problem. Lawyer prof. Dr Peter Jambrek, who has been involved in the judicial system of the Republic of Slovenia, the European Union, and the Council of Europe for decades, believes that in the latter case the matter is systemic – a fish stinks from the head down – and we always look at the tops of some institutions, how they work, what symbolic messages they send. “Regardless of the person, we have a serious systemic problem in Slovenia and the Slovenian judiciary,” Jambrek emphasised. Regardless of the presumption regarding the diploma or the bar exam – in any case, the question itself, which has not yet received an appropriate answer, is extremely important.
The fact is that to date we have not received precise and clear answers to the questions of correctness, diploma certificates, and certificate of a bar exam of the former President of the Supreme Court, Branko Masleša. So, the questions remain open. Many questions are open. Even in a long and comprehensive interview, Dnevnik received only a scant answer in one sentence to the question of the adequacy and legality of the diploma and the bar exam. Masleša said that he has a diploma and a bar exam. In Jambrek’s opinion, this answer is not sufficient, and it also leaves open questions of appearance. The lawyer and higher education teacher explained that when talking about and examining or questioning the integrity, honesty, legality, bias, or impartiality of a judge, then at least according to the jurisprudence of both European courts – Strasbourg and Luxembourg – actual integrity, honesty and appearance are equally important. It is therefore very important for the public whether a judge demonstrates an appropriate appearance of legality and fairness that protects the rights of the people involved in court proceedings. In Jambrek’s opinion, there is no such thing as the integrity and legality of the Supreme Court judge in this case, at least for now.
All those concerned should deal with this issue quickly and accurately – including the Supreme Court itself and the current President of this court Damijan Florjančič, the Judicial Council and other competent bodies, including the Ministry of Justice – so that the democratic public comes to convincing answers. The first person who would be expected to have a personal interest in the public receiving these answers and that these answers are also credible, accurate, detailed, direct, is of course Masleša himself. Jambrek does not remember a similar case, so that the (former) President of the Supreme Court himself would ever have any dubious appearance of legality. However, the conduct of the Judicial Council and the Supreme Court in this otherwise difficult case does not demonstrate the fulfilment of its mission and responsibility.
The image of the entire Slovenian judiciary and any image of a fair trial would collapse
It should be reminded that the Supreme Court of the Republic of Slovenia announced on Twitter the lawsuit of the affected Supreme Judge against those who accuse him of any irregularity in relation to the certificates he allegedly has. In one sentence, it was even written that the compensation will be donated to charity. Jambrek assessed that this sentence of the Supreme Court was affirmative, grammatically affirmative and as such left no doubt as to whether a verdict of damages would be obtained or not. “This is not a possibility, but the Supreme Court has literally prejudged that this verdict will be in favour of the plaintiff,” he said, adding that this is a very unusual and unprofessional formulation of cases that are extremely sensitive and require accuracy. The fact that the Judicial Council does not know how to say anything in correspondence on this matter that would remove the last shadow of doubt about the appearance of dishonesty and disinterest is also very strange. Jambrek pointed out that he understood the caution of the Supreme Court, the Judicial Council, and the Minister of Justice, and that they were silent in all their caution. If it turns out that something on this appearance of unbelief is true, then the image of the entire Slovenian judiciary and any image of a fair trial in the Republic of Slovenia will collapse.
We should not focus solely on the case of Masleša
Regarding the decision-making of the Judicial Council, former judge Zvjezdan Radonjić said that, as a rule, they adjust their decision-making to the needs or what they expect would be good for the government’s judicial structures and for those behind all this. According to him, a decision can be made very quickly – especially if the matter is clear. In this case, however, it looks like they are buying time. The issue of Mesleša’s diploma does not seem so problematic to Radonjić, as the Slovenian judiciary alone is in such a delicate position that it is not so important. Radonjić is also convinced that we should not focus only on this case, because in Slovenia at least 50 to 60 judges who are also problematic – regardless of whether they have diplomas or not. However, it is extremely problematic that, as a rule, such persons are promoted to the very top of the judiciary.
If the system worked, the consequences would be clear
If the vertical police – prosecutor’s office – judiciary in Slovenia were to work and if the suspicions turned out to be well-founded in Masleša’s case, the consequences would of course be clear. He would face prosecution, as at least four or five crimes could be listed throughout his tenure. This would be followed by a multi-year prison sentence and multimillion-dollar compensation claims by the state. All participants in the proceedings in which Masleša participated should be acquitted and rehabilitated – regardless of whether they committed a crime. There would be millions in damages. But since the state of justice is as it is, in Radonjić’s opinion, not much will happen. The former judge stressed that a comprehensive, radical, even revolutionary change in the prosecution and judiciary would be needed. All but the emergency courts should be dissolved, and judges should be selected by foreign experts. Our system is so closed that it is impermeable to anything that citizens would expect from the judiciary.