Organization of the Court

What does the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic entail?

The Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic stands as an independent judicial body safeguarding constitutionality, as articulated in the Constitution. Tasked with defending the supreme law of the state, the Court ensures adherence to the Constitution by all state and local authorities. This document not only delineates the distribution of powers among state entities but also enshrines fundamental rights and freedoms, thus delineating the basic parameters for governance. By upholding the Constitution, the Constitutional Court safeguards the liberties and fundamental rights of individuals against unconstitutional laws and governmental interventions.

According to the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, state power derives from the citizens, emphasizing their sovereignty and the state's duty to serve them. The state's role extends to protecting the freedom and inherent human rights of every citizen. While the state requires the authority to establish and enforce universally applicable rules of conduct, it must do so within the bounds of law to prevent its abuse. This principle, known as the rule of law, dictates that governmental actions must adhere to established legal frameworks. Additionally, to prevent concentration and misuse of power, state authority is divided among various bodies, each tasked with distinct responsibilities, thereby providing checks and balances. This principle, known as the separation of powers, ensures accountability and oversight within the government. Citizens entrust their representatives with exercising state power, reflecting the democratic principle that state authority is derived from the people.

As a democratic state governed by the rule of law, the Slovak Republic upholds the inalienable rights and freedoms of its citizens and residents, with a system of checks and balances to prevent power abuse. To safeguard against violations of the Constitution and human rights, the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic serves as the ultimate guardian.

Like other governmental bodies, the Constitutional Court operates within the framework set forth by the Constitution and relevant legislation, notably the Law on the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic.

Established in 1993, the Constitutional Court commenced its operations with the appointment of its first ten judges in January, followed by the selection of Milan Čič as President and Štefan Ogurčák as Vice-President in March. The Court held its first session on March 17, 1993.

Who constitutes constitutional judges and what is the process for their appointment?

The Constitutional Court is comprised of 13 judges, each serving for a 12-year term. They are appointed by the President of the Slovak Republic, who selects from a pool of twice as many candidates nominated by the National Council of the Slovak Republic. Eligible candidates must be at least 40 years old, hold a law degree, and possess a minimum of 15 years of legal experience.

To become a constitutional judge, an individual must be a Slovak citizen with a law degree from a university, have at least 15 years of experience as a lawyer, be at least 40 years old, and have no record of a deliberate criminal offense, even if any conviction has been overturned. Additionally, candidates must demonstrate a record of moral integrity ensuring the proper performance of judicial duties.

Candidates meeting these criteria may be nominated to the Constitutional Law Committee of the National Council by various entities, including MPs, the Government, heads of highest judicial authorities, the Judicial Council, the Attorney-General, the Public Defender of Rights, legal professional organizations, and law-related scientific institutions. Self-nomination is not permitted.

Once nominated, candidates must consent to their proposal and submit a curriculum vitae, a letter of motivation, and other relevant documents. These documents are then published on the National Council's website for a minimum of 45 days for public review. Candidates undergo hearings before the Constitutional Law Committee, which are open to the public. During these hearings, candidates present themselves, detailing their reasons for applying, professional experiences, publications, participation in legal events, and significant achievements. Following their presentations, candidates respond to questions from Committee members and the President or their representative. These sessions are publicly broadcasted.

The final selection of judges occurs through parliamentary elections. Parliament must elect twice as many candidates as there are judicial vacancies on the Constitutional Court. Each candidate must receive at least 90 votes in both initial and subsequent elections. If more candidates receive at least 90 votes than the number of positions available, the candidate with the highest number of votes is elected. If the required number of candidates isn't elected, new elections are called until the necessary number of candidates is elected. Subsequent elections require 76 votes for a candidate to be elected.

The President of the Republic then appoints judges from the elected candidates. Judges officially take office by swearing an oath to uphold the inviolability of natural rights, abide by the rule of law, adhere to the Constitution, constitutional laws, and ratified international treaties, and exercise their duties independently and impartially.

Judges may cease to hold office due to various reasons, including reaching the age of 72, resignation, or death. Additionally, the President of the Republic can dismiss a judge under specific circumstances outlined in the Constitution, such as conviction of a deliberate crime, disciplinary misconduct incompatible with judicial duties, or prolonged absence from court proceedings.

Lists of current and former Constitutional Court judges, including Presidents and Vice-Presidents, along with their CVs, can be found on respective links provided.

Who is the head of the Constitutional Court and how is it organised?

The President of the Republic also appoints the President of the Court and the Vice-President of the Court from among the Constitutional Court judges for a full 12-year term. The Constitutional Court can decide on some cases only with a full bench of all 13 judges, while other cases are decided in chambers of three judges. The judges are assisted in their work by staff, particularly advisers, analysts, and secretaries, who are employed by the Office of the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic.

The President of the Constitutional Court manages the Court and represents it externally, acting on its behalf. They ensure the proper functioning of the Constitutional Court by appointing and dismissing the Head of the Chancellery of the Contitutional Court and engage with other State and non-State institutions, managing the Court's international relations.

Since its establishment, the Constitutional Court has fostered strong relationships with foreign constitutional courts and has actively participated in various international institutions. It joined the Conference of European Constitutional Courts in 1997 and has been a member of the World Conference for Constitutional Justice since its inception. Prioritizing cooperation with European institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg is among its goals. The role of the President of the Constitutional Court is crucial in maintaining these relations.

The President of the Constitutional Court also holds significant protocol powers concerning the President of the Republic. The President of the Republic takes office by swearing an oath to the President of the Constitutional Court. Conversely, the President of the Republic selects and appoints the President of the Constitutional Court from among the judges of the Constitutional Court at their discretion. The President of the Republic can only resign from their office before the President of the Constitutional Court, who then notifies the Speaker of the National Council, triggering presidential elections.

Given the President of the Constitutional Court's numerous managerial, representative, and protocol responsibilities, they handle fewer cases than other judges.

The Constitutional Court exercises most of its powers in a plenary chamber composed of all 13 judges, requiring at least seven judges to agree with a proposal for a decision to be made. Disagreeing judges may append their dissenting opinions to the decision. The plenary also adopts the Court's draft budget, Rules of Procedure and Administration, and decides on matters such as the constitutionality of laws and regulations with nationwide scope, election integrity, referendum eligibility, and state of emergency declarations.

Certain matters are decided in senates of three judges. The thirteen judges are divided into four senates according to an approved timetable, with the President of the Court replacing another judge when assigned as Judge-Rapporteur. These chambers primarily rule on constitutional complaints, constituting the majority of new cases.

Several mechanisms ensure consistent rulings among senates. Discrepancies between senates' decisions on similar cases are reconciled by the plenary. The President of the Constitutional Court submits proposals for unifying legal opinions to the plenary if a senate deviates from previous legal opinions. Senates are bound by the full Court's decision when deciding similar cases.

The Chancellery of the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic provides professional support and performs tasks related to organizational, personnel, economic, administrative, and technical support for the judges. It´s head is appointed and dismissed by the President of the Constitutional Court. In terms of personnel, the Chancellery's activities are carried out by judicial advisors, analytical researchers, and secretaries to the judges, as well as other emplyees. They create the administrative and technical conditions necessary for the decision-making activities of the Constitutional Court.

The closest associates of a Constitutional Court judge include their judicial advisors. Their primary task is to analyze the cases assigned to the Judge-Rapporteur, to prepare the basis for decisions, and particularly to draft decisions, as instructed by the judge.

The President of the Constitutional Court, the President of the senate, and the Judge-Rapporteur may instruct the judicial advisor to carry out individual procedural acts in the proceedings that otherwise belong to the judges themselves. In the context of examining whether the procedural conditions of the proceedings have been met, this may include, for example, requests to remedy deficiencies in the applications to commence proceedings. As a rule, the judicial advisors also invite the parties, interested parties, or other entities, where the circumstances of the case so require, to submit their observations on the case or on relevant procedural issues. At the same time, they shall arrange for the request of files relating to the case under consideration, documents, or other necessary documents for the decision.

The analytical researchers are, so to speak, the "eyes and ears" of the Constitutional Court. Their main task is to prepare the expert documents, opinions, and researches needed, particularly in more complex cases. In this context, they also monitor and analyze the decision-making activities of the Plenum and senates of the Constitutional Court, follow the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the constitutional courts and supreme judicial authorities of other countries, search for legal information, and provide other input for the decision-making activities of the Constitutional Court.

Since the cases heard by the Constitutional Court concern relatively complex constitutional law issues that span all areas of law and, in many cases, involve the intersection of the Slovak legal order with international law or European Union law, the work of both a judicial advisor and an researchers at the Constitutional Court demands high levels of professionalism, qualifications, and work commitment.

You can read more about the Chancellery of the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic and its other components [here].

What does the Constitutional Court rule on?

The Constitutional Court is a specialized court that adjudicates on matters different from those handled by other courts.

I. Similar to constitutional courts in other countries, the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic primarily ensures the compliance of laws with the Constitution and other constitutional laws, as well as with international treaties binding on the Slovak Republic, often focusing on human rights agreements. However, the Constitutional Court not only reviews laws but also regulations issued by the government, ministries, other administrative bodies, and even regulations issued by municipalities and self-governing regions.

However, such scrutiny of laws and regulations cannot be initiated by every citizen; very few states grant their citizens such an opportunity. Only bodies specifically designated in the Constitution can do so, typically upon the proposal of a group of at least 30 (often opposition) MPs, the President of the Republic, and the Attorney General. In some instances, the Public Defender of Rights and the President of the Judicial Council may also initiate such proceedings.

The review of legislation can be initiated, and often is, by other courts if they are required to apply such legislation to a case they are currently adjudicating and find it unconstitutional.

If the Constitutional Court declares a law or other regulation unconstitutional, the regulation is repealed (rendered null and void) upon the publication of the Constitutional Court's ruling.

II. Additionally, the Constitutional Court exercises a power not typically wielded by constitutional courts when it verifies whether an election, referendum, or popular vote on the removal of the President of the Republic has been conducted in accordance with the Constitution and the law. If it finds a violation, it may declare the entire election null and void, or annul the result and declare a valid winner.

III. Moreover, upon the President of the Republic's request before a referendum is called, the Constitutional Court examines whether the Constitution permits a referendum on a particular subject matter. If the Constitutional Court determines that such a referendum subject matter is not permitted by the Constitution, the President may not call such a referendum.

IV. The Constitutional Court also resolves disputes between State organs on the correct interpretation of the Constitution and constitutional laws, with its interpretation being binding on all and carrying the same weight as the Constitution itself.

V. Furthermore, any individual may approach the Constitutional Court when they believe their fundamental rights have been violated by a final decision or intervention of another authority, typically a general court. The Constitutional Court may annul the decision or intervention of the concerned authority and refer the case back for reconsideration, or instruct the inactive authority to act, thereby binding it to the Constitutional Court's opinion in subsequent proceedings.

While these powers are the most significant, the Constitutional Court also rules on various other matters, albeit less frequently. Over its years of existence, the Constitutional Court has been granted increasing powers through various amendments to the Constitution, many of which have not been utilized.

The Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic convenes and makes decisions in plenary session regarding:

  • The conformity of laws, government regulations, and generally binding legal regulations of ministries and other central state administration bodies (Article 125(1)(a) and (b) of the Constitution).
  • The conformity of international treaties (Article 125a of the Constitution).
  • Compliance with the subject matter of referendums (Article 125b of the Constitution).
  • Competence disputes (Article 126 of the Constitution).
  • Interpretation of the Constitution or constitutional laws (Article 128 of the Constitution).
  • Electoral matters (Article 129(2) of the Constitution).
  • Complaints against the result of referendums (Article 129(3) of the Constitution).
  • Complaints against the result of a popular vote on the impeachment of the President (Article 129(3) of the Constitution).
  • Review of a decision to dissolve or suspend a political party or political movement (Article 129(4) of the Constitution).
  • Impeachment proceedings against the President (Articles 129(5) and 107 of the Constitution).
  • Compliance with a decision to declare a state of emergency (Article 129(6) of the Constitution).
  • The conformity of a resolution of the National Council annuling an amnesty or individual pardon (Article 129a of the Constitution).
  • The invalidity of legislation (Article 152(3) of the Constitution).

The Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic convenes and makes decisions in senates regarding:

  • Constitutional complaints (Article 127 of the Constitution).
  • Complaints by local self-government bodies (Article 127a of the Constitution).
  • Complaints against decisions on the verification or non-verification of the mandate of a member of the National Council (Article 129(1) of the Constitution).
  • Compliance with generally binding legal regulations of local state administration bodies and local self-government bodies (Article 125(1)(c) and (d) of the Constitution).
  • Reviewing decisions on the protection of public interest and the avoidance of conflicts of interest (Article 10 of Constitutional Law 357/2004 on the Protection of Public Interest in the Exercise of Functions of Public Officials, as amended).

Where does the Constitutional Court sit?

The seat of the Constitutional Court is located in the city of Košice. In 2006, it relocated from the Csáky-Dessewfy Palace at 72 Hlavna Street to 110 Hlavna Street, where it has remained since.

The current complex of the Constitutional Court occupies the former site of the municipal armory and barracks, which the city opted to demolish. New barracks were constructed by the military after 1885, with a portion being utilized by the city police from 1910 onwards. The front wing, situated at 110 Hlavna Street, served as the headquarters of the police, which later relocated to premises on Moyzesova Street, leaving the entire building exclusively for military use once again.

Through careful architectural interventions and reconstruction efforts, the barracks premises were transformed into a prestigious complex. The inaugural session of the Constitutional Court´s Plenum at its newly renovated seat occurred on 16 February 2006.

Currently, the Constitutional Court is housed in three buildings forming an integrated complex. The building on Main Street accommodates the offices of the President and other judges, including the Independence Hall, where closed sessions are held and distinguished visitors are received. Another building, located at 59 Mäsiarska Street and accessible to the public, contains the main courtroom, the Registry, staff offices, library, and archives. Additionally, the building on Zbrojničná Street provides lodging for judges who do not permanently reside in Košice.

On 15 December 2009, a statue of Justice by Martin Štepka was installed on the facade of the building at 110 Hlavna Street, which has been designated a national cultural monument since 13 February 1981 and is part of the Košice Municipal Monument Reserve. Over time, the interior of this part of the Constitutional Court complex has been aesthetically enriched with artifacts loaned from institutions such as the Šariš Gallery in Prešov, the East Slovak Gallery in Košice, and the East Slovak Museum in Košice.

The transformation of the former Jiskra Barracks into the present-day functional and dignified seat of the Constitutional Court was further enhanced by the addition of a new courtroom, inaugurated on 9 April 2013. Following its renovation, the premises initially designated for public hearings were repurposed as a library.

Create date: 24.8.2023 Last modified: 15.3.2024