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Another Stain on the Reputation of the Constitutional Court: Law Firm Čeferin Contested the Decrees, and Constitutional Court Judge Čeferin Ruled on Them!

“If that is true, then Judge Čeferin should be excluded from the proceedings. You do not have to be a lawyer to recognise the conflict of interest in this situation,” former Constitutional Court Judge Jan Zobec told us in response to our question. A judge who is associated with a law firm may not rule in matters directly related to the proceedings in which the client is represented by that law firm. Namely, we received a warning in our editorial board that the Čeferin Law Firm is representing those who were fined for violating government decrees, which were adopted in order to limit the epidemic – and Constitutional Court Judge Rok Čeferin ruled that the government’s measures to limit the epidemic were unconstitutional. Let’s not forget that Judge Čeferin had already damaged the reputation of the Constitutional Court when he did not exclude himself from the proceedings in another case that also involved the Čeferin Law Firm.

Our editorial board received some information relating to the question of whether the lawyer and Constitutional Court Judge Rok Čeferin perhaps had a conflict of interest in the current decision of the Constitutional Court on the government’s measures adopted to limit the epidemic. Namely, the Law Firm Čeferin has publicly announced that it has established a legal network that will represent all those who received fines for violating the government decrees for limiting the covid-19 epidemic pro bono (for free), which the Law Firm Čeferin is allegedly already doing in practice. As is well known, Rok Čeferin, as a Constitutional Court judge, ruled that these measures of the government to limit the epidemic were unconstitutional. As a result, the Čeferin law firm will be reimbursed by the state for all legal costs it incurred in representing these people in proceedings for fines or penalties for violating the decrees. Should Rok Čeferin be excluded due to a conflict of interest? And not just because of the material interests of the law firm. This is also about the interest of the Čeferin law firm regarding its reputation.

According to members of non-governmental organisations, the penalties for violating the ordinances and for non-compliance with the anti-covid measures are gross abuses of the law under the guise of fighting the epidemic. That is why, together with unnamed lawyers, they set up the Legal Network for the Protection of Democracy (Pravna mreža za varstvo demokracije) in January this year. Some of Friday’s protesters were previously also assisted by the Čeferin law firm in challenging the fines.

The Čeferin Law Firm is involved in defending violators of the decrees
The web portal reported at the time that Friday’s protesters were also receiving fines for ringing their bicycle bells and honking their bicycle horns, for having decorated bicycles, as well as for carrying banners and umbrellas that had inscriptions on them. Due to interesting constitutional issues, free assistance was offered to some of them at the Čeferin Law Firm. “The fines were given on the basis of the Communicable Diseases Act, and the actual situation, which leads to the imposition of fines, clearly shows that this is not a matter of sanctioning non-compliance with measures, adopted to curb the epidemic,” Sanja Sega from the Čeferin Law Firm told the web portal at the time. The web portal also reported at the time that the law firm was still negotiating about joining the Legal Network. Fridays’ protesters filed a lawsuit against ten police officers in December of last year already, as they believe that the officers in question exceeded their authority. Namely, the police officers wrote up some of the protesters and told them that they would receive a fine for misdemeanour. At the time, the protesters announced that they would use all legal means to fight these fines and that, among other things, the Čeferin Law Firm would also help them.

According to the known facts, in this case, at least the objective bias is indisputable, and therefore, the Constitutional Court Judge Čeferin should be excluded from the proceedings. We also asked former Constitutional Court Judge Jan Zobec for his opinion on the matter. “Judge Čeferin should be excluded from the proceedings. You do not have to be a lawyer to recognise the conflict of interest in this situation,” Zobec said. A judge who is affiliated with a law firm (financially, proprietarily, or through family) cannot rule on matters directly related to the proceedings in which a client is represented by the said law firm – it is obvious that in this case, the judge would be interested in the success of the clients represented by the law firm he is affiliated with.

“Unfortunately, such a decision will not be made because in this case, the loser is the state – the National Assembly and the government,” Zobec explained. Of course, the country itself does not have human rights and therefore cannot turn to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). “This will definitely add another stain to the already stained reputation of the Constitutional Court. They are sinking, every day, with each decision, sinking further and destroying the reputation that this institution once had – they are destroying what it is ultimately supposed to protect: the constitution. It is difficult to watch – I never thought that 30 years after gaining our independence, our constitutional democracy would already be this undermined – undertaken by the very guardian of constitutional democracy,” the former Constitutional Court judge admitted in disappointment.  

None of the fines were issued for expressing an opinion – the fact is that the protests took place during the epidemic
In an interview with Novice Svet24 in March, Peter Čeferin emphasised that the right to protest against the actions of authorities is an elementary human right that no authority can take away from the people. In a country where protests are being sanctioned, democracy is at stake, he said. “It is a clear restriction on freedom of expression. The very fact that a regulation separates individuals in a physically comparable situation – whether they express their opinion or not – is proof that such a ban has nothing to do with curbing the epidemic. The epidemic is just a transparent pretence for the introduction of more and more restrictions,” he said. He then added that the authoritarian systems are characterised by a series of attacks by the authorities on independent media and the independent judiciary. The authorities respond to every criticism by discrediting the regime media, and this is the situation in Slovenia today, according to the oldest Čeferin. These made-up changes of the grounds for imposing fines are, of course, wrong. No fine was issued for expressing an opinion, nor were the protests themselves sanctioned. We cannot pretend that the protests did not take place during a pandemic, when certain ordinances and certain restrictions were in force because of that, which the protesters simply violated at every unreported protest. And simply because of these violations, some of them also received fines. But not because of their opinions, as opponents of the current government want to make it seem.

Sara Bertoncelj

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