Wednesday, 20 May 2020

A Dozen Lawsuits Challenge Legality of Pandemic-Fighting Measures

May 20, 2020 — Croatia’s Civil Protection Directorate successfully kept the coronavirus pandemic at bay. But did it break constitutional law in the process?

Legal entities and private citizens submitted proposals asking the Constitutional Court to assess the legality of Croatia’s pandemic-fighting measures.

There is no timeline for the court’s response. Croatia entered the political and procedural noman’s land when it dissolved parliament and called for elections.

A dozen lawsuits before the constitutional court as a whole challenge the directorate’s decisions, putting a spotlight on the uneasy tradeoff between a rapid response to a crisis and following prescribed procedures.

The government and members of the directorate argue a speedy response to save human lives trumps procedural hurdles. But claimants in the suit argue limits on movement and forced closures encroach on constitutional rights.

Seven of the 12 lawsuits contend limits of movement within the country passed on March 23 broke with constitutional rights. The complaints contend such measures can only be passed by a parliamentary vote.

Another two complaints contend limits on social gatherings, work, and service activities meant to limit the number of people allowed to congregate in one spot. The plaintiffs contend the measures forced them out of business, impinging upon their constitutional freedoms as entrepreneurs — including the right to work and the right to earn.

A final set of complaints contends limits on funeral gatherings, passed on March 20, as well as the ban on crossing the border.

Perhaps the most contentious ties to an indirect bailout the media industry, which was laced into measures passed to preserve jobs.

The court’s decisions will last well into the coming phases of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as other emergencies.

Parliamentary Speaker Gordan Jandroković dismissed concerns about the constitutionality of the directorate’s maneuvers, predicting the court would dismiss any complaints — if anyone even bothered filing them.

Numerous legal experts, including a member of the court itself, warned from the beginning that the National Civil Protection Directorate’s decisions ran afoul of the Croatian Constitution.

Judge Andrej Abramović argued the Civil Protection Directorate lacked the constitutional authority to pass and enforce its decisions.

Abramovic said amendments to the Civil Protection System Act passed by Parliament on March 18 introduced the concept of "occurrence of special circumstances" even though the description of "special circumstances" is identical in substance to the state of "catastrophe" that the law already contains. "Why did the government not declare the disaster foreseen by law?

"Detaining people in their own homes without testing puts them in a precarious position: neither healthy nor sick, they are stigmatized to the extent of being threatened by most,” he wrote.

The text included comparisons between the pandemic response and the war. The judge 

They contend the Government only retroactively regulated the status of the members of the Headquarters, with parliament passing a special law giving them the authority to make decisions on-the-fly.

Friday, 17 April 2020

Croatia's Top Court: Politicians Can Talk Sh*t While at Work

April 17, 2020 — Want to insult someone in Croatia with limited legal repercussions? Win an election.

If one average Croat turns to another and shouts, "I f*ck your mother!", the recipient could prosecute for "defamation" and "insult". If an elected official, however, declares a colleague a "piece of sh*t" while both are at work, the nation's top court considers it political expression.

An elected official cursing out a colleague on the premises of the representative body does not constitute defamation or insult, the Croatian Constitutional Court decided, according to Jutarnji List.

The decision muddies the already-murky interpretation of Croatia's defamation laws. Up until now, insulting speech and cursing opened the door to legal proceedings, though the outcomes weren't always guaranteed. The laws are often used by politicians to silence unfriendly media coverage, or ornery citizens with thin skin and cash to burn on legal expenses.

The decision opens the floodgates to some of the Croatian language's best expressions. Politicians can now freely deploy these terms during legislative sessions and within government buildings.

The court's decision offers two legal hurdles to provide one with the freedom to curse without legal consequences: the speaker and recipient must both be elected officials, and the four-letter words must be uttered, shouted or angrily hissed while within a government building.

That means "I f*ck your mother!", "You piece of sh*t!" and “And I really do f*ck your mother!” all now belong in Croatia's political vernacular, but can still get one in trouble out on the street.

The Constitutional Court's decision came thanks to a complaint filed by the Independent Councilor of Korcula City Council, Tin Andrijic. In 2013, at a session of the City Council, he verbally attacked the director of the Korčula Sports Facilities Dalibor Antunović. Knowing that everything was transmitted by Radio Korcula, the councilman told Antunović, "I f*ck your mother!", "You piece of sh*t!" and “And I really do f*ck your mother!” among other things.

Antunović sued Andrijić for defaming his honor and reputation, a widely-interpreted legal premise that's a catchall for any speech or expression which makes a person feel like a "piece of sh*t", regardless of whether or not they are one.

Other western defamation and libel laws require a second hurdle: the speaker's intent to defame or hurt must be proven. Croatia's does not. The person calling someone a "piece of sh*t" is wrong simply if it makes the alleged "piece of sh*t" feel bad. Even their behavior may merit someone telling them "I f*ck your mother!"

The Dubrovnik Municipal Court ruled Councilman Andrijić committed the offense of insult and fined him HRK 5,000. In the proceedings, Andrijić invoked the immunity guaranteed by the Law on Local and Regional Self-Government, according to which a member of the representative body cannot be prosecuted or held accountable in any other way for voting, statements or opinions and opinions expressed at sessions of the representative body. The court dismissed his argument. 

"It was not a statement or an opinion or a position at a sitting of a representative body within the meaning of the said legal provision, but a mere curse and a pure insult, and such words have no purpose or meaning other than to offend and disparage," it wrote in its decision.

The Constitutional Court disagrees. It stated lower courts violated the constitutional right to a fair trial, and referred to a precedent set in a similar case, which said legislative immunity included such situations. The Constitutional Court's decision was not unanimous, however. Three constitutional judges opposed it and wrote separate opinions. Among them are two former SDP members, Josip Leko and Ingrid Anticevic Marinovic, and Judge Andrej Abramovic.

So if any citizens want to insult each other with full legal immunity, consider running for office.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Constitutional Court Will Not Change Decision on Inauguration Venue

ZAGREB, January 17, 2020 - Constitutional Court president Miroslav Šeparović said on Friday that the Constitutional Court would not meddle in the president-elect's decision that the inauguration would take place at the Office of the President at Pantovčak, and not in St. Mark's Square, as has been the case until now.

"The president-elect has the right to choose the location of his inauguration, and we will respect that choice. What matters to the Constitutional Court is the presidential oath," Šeparović told Hina adding that the Constitutional Court does not choose the location of the inauguration.

"The only thing that matters to the Constitutional Court is that before stepping into office the president-elect takes an oath before the president of the Constitutional Court, as the Constitution says, that is, before the Constitutional Court as regulated by the Law on the Election of the President of the Republic of Croatia. It is also important that the text of the presidential oath is in compliance with the law," Šeparović said.

The decision by President-elect Zoran Milanović for his inauguration to be held with only those absolutely necessary to be invited and for it to be in the Office of the President on Pantovčak Hill instead of a ceremony in St. Mark's Square as has always been the case, led to different reactions among parliamentarians on Friday.

Social Democratic Party (SDP) MP Joško Klisović, who is Milanović's close associate, said that the inauguration would be a moderate ceremony appropriate to the moment and act of taking on the duties of the president.

"The president wanted to send a message to Croatian citizens that he is not there for the ceremony but to do a job. Ceremony is part of his job but we will bring it to the minimum because we cannot live off it (ceremony) in Croatia," Klisović said.

"We elected a president with attitude. The president has his attitude and he communicated that to the public in yesterday's interview (with the Nova TV). His pre-election promise is already being brought to reality with his first moves," Klisović said.

Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) political secretary, Ante Sanader commented briefly saying that that is the decision of the elected president. "The people elected the president and authorised him to make his decision on that," said Sanader.

Leader of the GLAS party Anka Mrak Taritaš thinks that the inauguration in the President's Office is an excellent idea. "Throughout his campaign, President Milanović showed that he wants to be a normal, decent president and that he does not want that role to be made into a show with all the pomp," said Mrak Taritaš.

Nikola Grmoja of the MOST party said the president is elected directly by the people in an election and he should have more powers and the inauguration then should be a ceremonious act.

"If we want a president without powers, who is elected in parliament then this sort of inauguration would be appropriate, but if someone has given you that much confidence int a direct election then that should be a ceremonious act. Croatia needs to decide what sort of president it wants," Grmoja said.

Croatian Peoples' Party (HNS) whip Milorad Batinić said that modesty is a virtue however Croatia is a parliamentary country adding that he would not have anything against the inauguration being held in St. Mark's Square as it has been until now, but that in the end it made no difference where it is held.

More news about Zoran Milanović can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 12 August 2019

MOST Accuses Constitutional Court President of Siding with Parliamentary Majority

ZAGREB, August 12, 2019 - A member of parliament from the opposition MOST party, Robert Podolnjak, on Monday accused Constitutional Court President Miroslav Šeparović of having sided with the parliamentary majority and the government by not stating the court's position on an opposition motion for a special parliamentary debate on a vote of no confidence in the health minister, thus making it possible for the constitutional deadline of 30 days within which the parliament must discuss such motions, to expire.

Podolnjak said this in a letter which he sent Šeparović because he believes that the Constitution was violated when a conclusion was adopted that the parliament speaker does not have to call an extraordinary parliament session when one-fifth of its members file a motion to discuss a vote of no confidence in a government member at the time when the parliament is in recess.

Podolnjak, a constitutional law professor and member of the parliamentary Committee on the Constitution, Standing Orders and Political System, said that the motions submitted to the Constitutional Court regarding the parliament's conclusion not to discuss the opposition's motion described the conclusion as "a significant breach of the Constitution on which the parliamentary system is based".

"The most important element is the government's political responsibility towards the parliament, both collective and individual, and it cannot be partial or random. In every moment of their work, the government, the prime minister and individual ministers answer to the parliament and the ultimate test of their political responsibility is the vote of no confidence," Podolnjak said.

Procedures regarding such a motion, envisaged by the Constitution, must be interpreted in line with that, including Article 116, Paragraph 4, which says that a debate on and a vote of no confidence must take place within 30 days at the latest from the day a motion to that effect is submitted to the parliament, claims Podolnjak.

Despite the importance of the topic in question and the 30-day deadline, the Constitutional Court did not state its position nor did the President of the Republic act on MPs' request to call an extraordinary session of the parliament, in line with her constitutional powers, Podolnjak says in the letter.

As for Šeparović's statement in which he said that the Constitutional Court acts exclusively on its own initiative and when and if it deems it necessary and would act the same way in the case of the latest motion, Podolnjak said that the motion in question was not an ordinary motion by a group of MPs but a motion by more than one-fifth of members of almost all opposition parties and all opposition members of the Constitution Committee.

Podolnjak also noted that Šeparović's response and failure to act sent wrong messages to the public - that the motion is not an important matter concerning constitutional law and that motions by opposition MPs and parties are irrelevant.

Podolnjak also said that the Constitutional Court should urgently hold a session on the Opposition's motion for an extraordinary parliamentary debate on a vote of no confidence in the health minister.

More MOST party news can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 9 August 2019

President Puzzlingly Asks Constitutional Court Whether She Should Call Parliament to Meet

ZAGREB, August 9, 2019 - The Office of President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said in a statement on Friday that with regard to a request sent to her by the MOST party to call an extraordinary session of the parliament to discuss a vote of no confidence in Health Minister Milan Kujundžić, she would make a decision on the request if the Constitutional Court ruled that conditions for such a move had been created.

"If the Constitutional Court decides that conditions have been created for the parliament speaker to call an extraordinary session of the parliament and if the parliament speaker fails to do it, the president will decide on the request for an extraordinary parliament session in line with her constitutional powers," the president's office said.

The office noted that after the Parliament's Committee on the Constitution, Standing Orders and Political System turned down MOST's request for a special parliament session to discuss a motion for a vote of no confidence in Minister Kujundžić, party whip Nikola Grmoja wrote to President Grabar-Kitarović on August 6, asking her to request the parliament speaker to call a special parliament session in line with Article 79, Paragraph 2 of the Croatian Constitution.

"... Considering that 32 members of parliament who signed the motion for a special session of the parliament have asked the Constitutional Court to submit to the parliament a report on the constitutionality and legality of the conclusion made by the Committee on the Constitution, Standing Orders and Political System, the President calls on the Constitutional Court to act in line with its powers and respond to the motion filed by the parliamentary deputies on July 22," the president's office said.

More news about the Constitutional Court can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Constitutional Court Asks Ministry to Explain Financing of Pension Reform TV Ads

ZAGREB, May 7, 2019 - The Constitutional Court on Tuesday asked the Ministry of Labour and Pension System to explain the financing of an advertising campaign on the comprehensive pension reform, which the unions and opposition claim is directed against the "67 is too much" referendum initiative.

"The Constitutional Court has decided that it will request a detailed report from the Ministry of Labour and Pension System about the spending for the videos, how much in total is foreseen, how much has been spent until now, whether those funds are from the state budget and what their precise purpose is," President of the Constitutional Court Miroslav Šeparović told Hina.

He added that the explanation was requested "immediately and without delay," after which the court will decide whether it will take any steps.

"A grave violation of the rules of democratic procedure is required for the Constitutional Court to use its supervisory authority in this pre-referendum phase, a violation which in fact eliminates the possibility for citizens to express themselves at a referendum," he said.

The Constitutional Court has not been presented for now with the sort of evidence which would require it to react. We will continue to monitor the situation and, after the ministry submits its response, we will decide which steps to take, Šeparović explained.

MP Peđa Grbin of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) on Friday said that he had written to the Constitutional Court because he believed that the government was using taxpayers' money to finance a campaign against an ongoing union campaign for a referendum against the statutory retirement age of 67.

Grbin asked that the court use its powers to supervise referendum activities and warn participants in those activities, in this case state institutions, that their conduct is not in line with the constitution and laws.

Grbin claimed that the government was using public money to finance its campaign against the union referendum campaign.

Minister of Labour and Pension System Marko Pavić on Monday said that the campaign on the comprehensive pension reform was not an anti-referendum campaign and reiterated that a referendum is a democratic right, however, the government is obliged to continually inform citizens of the reforms it is implementing.

More news about pension reform can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Constitutional Court Dismisses Motions by Referendum Initiatives

ZAGREB, January 21, 2019 - The Constitutional Court has dismissed motions by the referendum initiatives "The Truth about the Istanbul Convention" and "The People Decide", the court said on its website on Monday.

The motions were rejected in two separate rulings in late December 2018. The rulings were adopted by a majority of votes with one dissenting opinion.

The two civil society groups asked the court to declare the verification of signatures gathered for their referendum petitions null and void.

The Truth about the Istanbul Convention had launched a signature gathering campaign for a referendum to abrogate the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by Parliament, while the People Decide initiative had called for a referendum to change the electoral system.

The Public Administration Ministry found that neither group had gathered enough signatures for their referendum petitions as many of the signatures were declared invalid.

More news on the referendum initiatives can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Public Broadcaster’s Licence Fee Declared Constitutional

ZAGREB, August 29, 2018 - The Constitutional Court has rejected several complaints concerning the Law on the Croatian Radio-Television (HRT) and provisions regulating radio and television licence fee, noting that this isn't a parafiscal tax but rather a "specific monetary obligation," to access "those radiodiffusion services that are conducted as a public interest."

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Constitutional Amendment on Referendums Presented

ZAGREB, May 26, 2018 - Social Democratic Party (SDP) MP Peđa Grbin on Friday told reporters that his party had collected the signatures of 50 parliamentarians and submitted a draft constitutional amendment to parliament regulating in detail the issue of referendums.