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A Constitutional Shock For The Government Of Robert Golob

“I think every lawyer expected this to be halted,” former Constitutional Court judge, Jan Zobec, commented on the Constitutional Court’s decision regarding the amendment to the Radio-Television Slovenia Act. The proposer of the amendment, the government of Robert Golob, has thus experienced “quite a shock” and “the first step” on which it stumbled, according to political analysts.

The Constitutional Court has temporarily halted the implementation of parts of Articles 23, 24 and 25 of the amendment to the Rado-Television Slovenia Act, which concern the constitution of the new Council of the institution, the drafting of new statutes, and the appointment of a new President and members of the Management Board. Five Constitutional Court judges supported the partial suspension, while three Constitutional Court judges voted against it. The petition for a review of the constitutionality of the amendment was lodged by several leading figures in the public media outlet. The first signatory is the current President of the Programme Council of RTV Slovenia, Peter Gregorčič. The decision thus challenges the provisions under which the terms of office of the members of the Programme and Supervisory Boards, the Director-General and the directors of television and radio would be terminated. The initiators of the constitutional review are convinced that the termination of the mandates would lead to irreversible consequences.

Although the Court is ideologically strongly left-leaning, it is clearly still operating normally. Nevertheless, a “far-left” element within the institution has emerged – three Constitutional Court judges have tried, with a misleading reference to the Constitutional Court Act, to hold up the proceedings until the left political pole “cleans up” the cadres at the public institution. We first turned to commentator and editor-in-chief of the Domovina website (Homeland), Rok Čakš, to ask what the political consequences of the Court’s decision will be for Prime Minister Robert Golob and his government: “This is quite a disappointing turn of events for the Golob government, which is so busy cleaning up the consequences of the Janša government that even the Constitutional Court, which is ideologically sympathetic or close to the government, had to stop it in the end.”

“This is an important sign for the authorities to properly restrain themselves; otherwise, they will definitely have to be restrained by other democratic institutions in the country,” Čakš believes.

“This is the first step on which Golob has stumbled”

Marko Balažic, a former commentator and President of the Slovenian People’s Party (Slovenska ljudska stranka – SLS), also commented on what happened: “What we have been pointing out during the referendum campaign has finally become clear – the new amendment has many shortcomings, especially in the area of appointments.” The Constitutional Court, he said, has now shown that there really are certain shortcomings in the amendment and that the processes of writing legislation would have to be “improved a little”. And this is not just about the amendment to the Radio-Television Slovenia Act – there are several other constitutionally controversial laws. Several similarly questionable laws have recently gone through the procedure, such as the Income Tax Act. “This is the first real warning of this kind for Golob that things will not be as “easy” as they might have imagined.”

“Of course, they will try to present the matter as if it is not a defeat, but in reality, this is the first step on which Golob has stumbled. Until now, it has not happened, but now it has. We have the rule of law that must be respected,” Balažic concluded.

Will the Golob government try to subjugate RTV with a new law?

Supreme Court judge Jan Zobec commented on the legal aspect of the Constitutional Court’s decision: “This is not a final decision of the Constitutional Court. It only means that the law cannot be implemented yet and that the implementation is temporarily halted. And it will stay that way until they decide on the substance of the law and on the petitions. The cases that are temporarily halted have absolute priority.” Zobec believes that the case is quite complex, so it is difficult to make assumptions about the length of the proceedings before the Constitutional Court.

There are several aspects, several levels of unconstitutionality, the former Constitutional Court judge explains – from abuse of the procedure itself to interference with mandates, retroactivity, the right to family life, and so on. It is important to bear in mind that people have lost their jobs and positions because of this amendment. “The case is constitutionally multifaceted, and consequently, the case may take some time …” The act is thus suspended for now, but this does not mean, according to Zobec, that the legislator cannot repeal the law and then amend it with a new law. It is possible for the legislative branch to pass a new law and have the old one expire. The law is already in force (since the end of last year), but it is not being implemented because of the temporary suspension. As Judge Zobec explains, the law cannot have legal effect when it comes to the areas because of which the Constitutional Court judges have suspended it. If the petitions were to be rejected, another possibility is, of course, to go to the European Court of Justice.

The European Court of Justice would also be a good option…

“It is certainly a good option. I am convinced that, at least in the case of some Constitutional Court judges, this is the main motive. But I believe that for most of them, the main motive was the commitment to the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, to human rights, and to international instruments, especially the European Convention,” Zobec commented on the judges’ decision. “I think every lawyer expected this to be halted,” he explained, adding that the question of a temporary suspension is actually about deciding between two bad options. One bad option is the harmful consequences that would arise from implementing the law, which would later turn out to be unconstitutional, and the other option is the harmful consequences that would arise from not implementing the law, which would later turn out to be constitutionally compliant. In the case in question, however, it is clear that we are talking about the first case – namely, the consequences that would arise from the implementation of the law, which would be irreversible, in particular for the petitioners, since their mandates would be terminated.

Domen Mezeg

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