[Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in our Year-in-Review series, which began earlier this year with the publication of the 2015 year-in-review of developments in Italian Constitutional Law, prepared by Marta Cartabia, Pietro Faraguna, Michele Massa and Diletta Tega. We invite scholars from around the world to prepare similar reports on their own jurisdictions for publication on I-CONnect. We are excited about this series, and we thank Tomáš Ľalík, Kamil Baraník and Simon Drudga for their report on Slovak constitutional law developments in 2015. –Richard Albert]
—Doc. Tomáš Ľalík (Comenius University), Dr. Kamil Baraník (Comenius University), and Simon Drudga (Nagoya University)
Background on the Slovak Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic (CC), with its 13 justices appointed for non-renewable 12-year terms, was established according to the Kelsenian idea of constitutional review conducted by a specialized judicial body.
The CC wields powers in 20 different types of proceedings, and decides cases either in the Plenum or in one of its four three-member Senates.
In 2015, the Court’s docket was flooded by 16,867 applications, of which 15,266 were addressed. The CC decided 90 plenary cases on merits and delivered a further 2157 meritorious judgments in the Senates. This translates to 1388 cases assigned, on average, to a single judge. Despite this backlog and the current understaffed bench (see more below), the Court managed to keep the average length of proceedings to nine months.
The case law of the CC is, regrettably, relatively unknown internationally. This has been exacerbated by the fact that the CC’s judgment summaries have not been continuously translated into English since 2011. The following I·CONnect report attempts to alleviate this informational lacuna.
In contrast to the benchmark year-in-review report of our Italian colleagues, this report introduces the Court’s 2015 seminal judgments to the international audience at quite some length.
This report divides the CC’s 2015 decisions into three categories.
The first focuses on various separation of powers disputes. Notably, this subject involves many aspects of the judiciary, including the powers of the CC itself. Perhaps the most important issue, affecting the CC significantly, involves an ongoing controversy over its composition. The Court has not been at its full capacity of 13 members since 2014. This was further intensified as one justice’s term expired in 2016. Thus, currently there are only ten justices running its bench. The CC has already had two opportunities to address this issue in the recent period, but the matter has remained unresolved for now. Besides that, the Court reviewed the constitutionality of a statutory freezing of judicial salaries in 2015, and also scrutinized the constitutionality of changes in the Judicial Council’s composition.
The second category analyses cases dealing with fundamental rights and freedoms. The “Data Retention” ruling occupies a place of particular importance. The ruling declared unconstitutional the national statutory provisions transposing the EU directive. The Court was in this case undoubtedly influenced by the Court of Justice of the European Union’s decision in the Digital Rights Ireland case. Furthermore, the CC’s rights and freedoms decision-making activity revolves around contentious limitations of social rights. In that respect, in 2015 the CC considered the constitutionality of obligatory work in exchange for allowance in material distress. Another important case involved “tax licences” as minimum tax paid by entrepreneurs/legal entities regardless of their profit or loss in a given year.
The third category focuses on electoral disputes, singling out one representative decision of the last year. In this case many persons, on very short notice before the regional elections, relocated their residencies in order to participate in the ballot. In that way they could influence the entire outcome of the elections. This has been a quite regular and disruptive electoral practice that has raised a vast number of electoral disputes at the local level of governance. The CC seized this opportunity and finally established a legal test of constitutionality for future similar manipulations. The case aptly illustrates the cut-and-thrust of the CC workload in this subject area.
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