Prague Post 12.11.97
Wednesday, November 12, 1997
Czech justice system doesn't provide justice
By Philip Ludikar
The recent case in which a judge "forgot" to extend the detention period of suspected murderer Ivan Roubal has been cited in the media (including The Prague Post) as yet another example of the ineffectiveness of the Czech justice system. An impartial observer might be tempted to think that the media are exaggerating. But that's certainly not the case.
"Incompetence can occur anywhere, of course -- and simply sacking the offending judge would cure the problem." If you happen to subscribe to this opinion, let me try to convince you that you're wrong. I believe that the Czech justice system is a shambles. It is not a question of the incompetence of a few individuals; the system is virtually incapable of delivering what it is supposed to deliver -- namely, justice. To illustrate this point, I offer two hypothetical examples.
In the first instance, a customer takes delivery of timber from your woods -- to the value of 500,000 Kc ($15,150) -- and then doesn't pay the bill. You notice that he leads a posh lifestyle -- beautiful villa, luxury car, etc. What do you do? You sue him. This takes place in, say, 1994. Time passes, it is nearly the end of 1997 and the case hasn't yet come to court. From the date of registration at the court, the amount of your claim is fixed. This means that as the years pass, the value of the claim decreases because of inflation -- you are losing money.
The claim is staggered and, quite amazingly, the defendant forgets to put in a formaebu claim in time. "Great!" you think. "At least part of the money is won. If he doesn't pay, his property will be confiscated and, failing that, he might even go to jail." Wrong! The onus is now on you to discover what property he has, and then, on the basis of your investigations, you have to take him to back to court. When you win, he might be able to persuade the judge to let him pay in installments over as much as 12 years. If he fails to pay any installment, you have to take him to court again.
The second example concerns a chateau that has been restituted, in a completely devastated state, to your family. By law, you are entitled to compensation for damages to the building from the previous owner -- which happens to be a large and well-known state company. One day in March 1995, one of the directors of the company invites you to a cafe. He tells you that he wants to help you, but that getting the compensation quickly depends on your coming to a "gentlemen's agreement" with him. If you don't, he tells you, you could expect to wait at least five years before getting anything. What do you do? Unwilling to give bribes, you decide to sue the company for the compensation. The first inconclusive court hearing is in April 1997. Time passes; it is coming toward the end of the year and nothing happens. Exasperated, you begin to wonder whether even five years is a realistic time scale.
Considering how badly the justice system works, it is remarkable how much business is conducted in a regular fashion in the Czech Republic. However, there will always be rogues willing to seize the opportunity to gain advantage through dishonesty. The system does nothing to discourage them; rather, dishonesty pays, and they are encouraged to continue. For those who are wronged, the Czech state fails to provide a fundamental right: justice. I think that most of us would agree that the concept of democracy involves more than just regular free elections.
What evidence is there that Czech politicians over the past few years have tried to improve things? Unfortunately, there is very little. The European Union recently criticized the Czech Republic for its ineffective justice system. My message to the EU would be: Don't let the Czechs join you, unless they first get their house in order. Such a pre-condition would be the best incentive to bring justice to this country.
The writer is a dual British/Czech citizen who has lived in the Czech Republic for the past six years