By: C. R.
In the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia on Friday, December 1st, 2023, the 1st urgent session of the Constitutional Commission took place, addressing the proposal for amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia regarding the appointment of judges. These are imposed changes to the constitution, being adopted through an urgent procedure without substantial justification, with the “opposition” party NSi actively assisting and leading the commission and the process.
The president of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), Janez Janša, challenged the commission’s chairman, NSi deputy Jožef Horvat, from the outset, questioning the reasons for the urgent procedure, as the country is not facing extraordinary circumstances. Horvat responded that he made this decision at the request of the proposer and could not hide a smile of embarrassment.
During the debate, SDS MP Branko Grims emphasised that such haste in amending the constitution is unacceptable. He stated, “The ruling coalition sees the upcoming elections as an impending iceberg on which it will sink like the Titanic and wants to address the situation for its political interests while it is still somewhat stable. Rushing to amend the constitution is just a reflection of the problems and weakness of the coalition.”
President of SDS, Janez Janša, outlined the consequences of the constitutional amendment regarding the appointment of judges.
- If 8 out of 15 members of the Judicial Council are determined through a secret process by the judges themselves and given the known structure within the judiciary and who is at the top of that structure, then no one in their right mind believes that these 8 judges will have diverse views. This will result in 8 votes in favour of the transitional left.
- The remaining 7 will be elected by a 2/3 majority in the National Assembly. Considering the political majority and the power dynamics in the National Assembly, at least 2 or 3 out of the 7 are likely to be aligned with the transitional left ideologically.
- This means that at least 10 out of 11 votes will always be secured to continue the practices that currently diminish the reputation of the Slovenian judiciary. This will be difficult to change because it will be cemented with a 2/3 majority.
- There is no balance or plurality in this scenario.
The president of the SDS posed a provocative question: Will the next idea be to inherit the judicial function?
Furthermore, he emphasised that Slovenia is the only post-communist country that has not implemented a personnel reform of the judiciary. All other countries that are now members of the European Union and were once part of the communist bloc have carried out judicial reforms, including personnel restructuring. As a result, Slovenia has a judicial branch with one of the lowest reputations in Europe. This implies that the situation will only worsen with the proposed new arrangement.
“The new system that is proposed is such that the people, on behalf of whom these individuals will judge, will learn the names of those who will judge them from the Official Gazette. The Judicial Council will go through this procedure, send the proposal to the president of the country, and she will sign it in the Official Gazette. At least there is some discussion now, at least when it comes to the highest function, and perhaps some proposals do not make it to the parliamentary benches just because it is known that there will be a debate; several proposals have already been rejected. What is now being proposed is significantly worse; the safeguard of a 3x two-thirds majority decision is a bluff. Why? Firstly, here you have a proposal that precisely specifies how 7 out of the 15 members of the Judicial Council will be appointed, meaning the minority, but there is nothing about how the majority, determined by the judges themselves, will be appointed,” warned the president of SDS.
Janša further reminded of the state within the judiciary. “Eight members of the future Judicial Council will be appointed by the existing judicial structure. How depoliticised this judicial structure is, can be seen when judges attend political gatherings of the SD party wearing Che Guevara shirts, when female judges enthusiastically applaud at Zoran Janković’s rally, as it was in 2011, and we recently saw in all its glory when the prime minister came before a hall full of judges and announced they would receive a €600 bonus. To top it off, the Minister of Justice recently submitted a law proposing exactly that.”
In the debate, SDS MP Franc Breznik warned that the coalition is implementing “depoliticisation of the judiciary in the direction of depoliticisation of RTV Slovenia. That is it. In essence, it is not about depoliticisation but about depluralisation. Anyone who thinks differently ideologically does not belong in the judicial service, and such individuals will naturally be ousted by the new system. They want submissive judges.”
SDS deputy Jože Tanko similarly warned about the guise of depoliticisation. “You talk about depoliticisation. If the National Assembly decides on the procedures for appointing judges, that is not politicisation. It is an appointment body that operates publicly. Now this will go into the non-public part, into the closed session of the Judicial Council. If decision-making in the National Assembly, in the mandate commission and in the plenary session of the National Assembly, is considered politicisation, then you do not understand the concept of politicisation. With your proposal, you are closing the entire process of appointing judges.”
Janša further highlighted that we hear that those elected by the people and who would participate in the appointment of judges must not be political, while judges can be. “Fantastic. We will not hear a bigger ‘joke’ today.” He also warned that these are trends, especially when it comes to the judiciary, to distance everyone elected by the people from deciding on judges. About people who then judge on behalf of the people.
“These are trends moving from democracy to autocracy, and today we heard quite a few strong words in support of these shifts.”
This was confirmed by the voting at the end of the debate when the proposal for constitutional amendments was approved by the committee.