New Judicial Roadmap - Reform of the judiciary

Written by Mgr. Dagmar Gmitterová & Mgr. Erik Schváb

On the 27th of April 2022, the National Council of the Slovak Republic adopted the Act on Amendments and Additions to Certain Acts in connection with the new seats and districts of district courts with effect from the 1st of January 2023 in connection with the approved Recovery and Resilience Plan. The objective of judicial reform is to specialize judges, expedite court proceedings and make courts reasonably accessible. The Ministry of Justice argues that reasonable access is not determined by kilometres of travel to court, but by the speed and quality of adjudication. The constitutional right to judicial protection is to be fully preserved.

The current network of 54 district courts is unable to meet the requirement that the court is staffed with three specialist judges, which is necessary for random assignment of cases to work. In the smaller courts, a judge has to deal with multiple areas, which also puts him or her at a disadvantage vis-à-vis highly specialized attorneys and litigants. A similar situation applies to the caseload of the chambers of the eight regional courts. The adoption of the new court map has increased the size of the judicial districts, allowing judges to specialise in the one main agenda they wish to pursue. According to the Department of Justice, this change allows judges to specialize in civil, commercial, criminal, family and administrative matters. Consequently, a specialised judge finds it easier to navigate his or her area of expertise, which implies better quality decisions. The changes were approved mainly by amending Act No 371/2004 Coll. on the seats and districts of courts of the Slovak Republic. In addition, the changes were also implemented in the relevant procedural norms, such as the Civil Procedure Code, the Civil Procedure Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and others.

Another advantage of the new court map will be the speeding up of court proceedings and a functional mechanism for random selection of judges, as well as an improvement in the quality of court decisions.

The new court map will also bring about the creation of municipal courts. The municipal court in Košice will be created by merging the three current district courts (Košice I, Košice II and Košice - surroundings). Four municipal courts will be in Bratislava, where the Bratislava I Municipal Court, the Bratislava II Municipal Court and the Bratislava III Municipal Court will be created by the transformation of the current district courts. In the case of the Municipal Court Bratislava IV, it will be created by merging the current District Court Bratislava IV and District Court Bratislava V. The municipal courts will have a specific agenda.

The causal jurisdiction of the courts in Bratislava will be determined as follows: the Municipal Court Bratislava I will deal with the criminal law agenda, the Municipal Court Bratislava II will deal with the family law agenda, the Municipal Court Bratislava III will be in charge of the commercial law agenda and will also keep the commercial register, and the Municipal Court Bratislava IV will deal with the civil law agenda. The redistribution of the agenda will result in the specialisation of judges on the main agendas, an even workload for judges and equal access to justice for people regardless of which district they live in.

Through the new court map adopted, the number of county courts will remain the same, but there will be a change in case jurisdiction. For commercial law cases, the following regional courts will have jurisdiction: the Regional Court in Bratislava for the Bratislava, Trnava and Nitra districts; the Regional Court in Banská Bystrica for the Banská Bystrica, Trenčín and Žilina districts; and the Regional Court in Košice for the Košice and Poprad districts. Concerning the family law agenda, the Regional Court in Trnava for the Bratislava, Trnava and Nitra districts; the Regional Court in Žilina for the Banská Bystrica, Trenčín and Žilina districts; and the Regional Court in Prešov for the Košice and Poprad districts. At the same time, a rule is laid down in the case of family law cases, according to which the panel of the causally competent court will travel to the hearing room of another regional court in the district of which the first instance court whose decision is challenged on appeal is located to the hearing room of the party to the proceedings. It remains in force that all regional courts will continue to deal with civil and criminal cases.

Given the new judicial map, the Supreme Administrative Court of the Slovak Republic will exercise administrative justice in the first instance in special and exceptional cases, for example in electoral matters or matters concerning political rights. In all other matters, in the first instance, the administrative justice agenda will be concentrated only in regional courts.

From 1st January 2023, new cases will already be brought before the new courts under the approved judicial reform. Judges will move to the new courts on that date, while they still have to take their pending cases with them and complete them. Given the shortness of time, it will be interesting to see how the Judicial Council and the presidents of the courts deal with the transfer of individual judges, and whether there will be chaos in the courts in the first few months of operation rather than a simplification of the court system.

Given that the new Minister of Justice of the Slovak Republic is considering postponing the entry into force of the new court map, the whole process of transformation of the courts may be delayed for a few more months.

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