(Washington, DC--December 12, 2003) Slovakia's Justice Minister told a RFERL audience earlier this week that his country is seeing progress in its fight against corruption with the recent introduction of targeted judicial reforms.
Daniel Lipsic, who has served as his country's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice since October 2002, said that one of the most useful reforms is a new, computerized court management program that assigns cases to judges on a random basis. Lipsic said that this program has improved transparency in the judicial system, as case assignment no longer relies on "the human factor." Lipsic also said that Slovakia is hoping to adopt legislation on alternative dispute resolution that will allow more civil cases to be resolved outside of the traditional courts, thereby easing the burden on judges in Slovakia's 55 districts and appellate courts.
A Harvard Law School-trained lawyer, Lipsic acknowledged that -- as in "every transitional country" -- public confidence in Slovakia's justice system is low. He asserted, however, that "passing new laws is necessary, but not sufficient" to improve the judicial system. The most important step, according to Lipsic, is the implementation of the new laws and reforms.
Based on laws passed this year, Lipsic said, Slovakia will by May 2004 set up a new special prosecutor's office and establish courts at the national level to investigate and prosecute corruption, organized crime, and white collar financial crimes. Lipsic hoped that removing these cases from the local and regional level -- where "personal contacts" can influence the success of an investigation -- would help "to break the cycle and ties" that hinder effective prosecution. Two other helpful reforms, Lipsic said, were the creation this past month of a "crown witness" program that allows prosecutors to offer plea bargains to witnesses with inside knowledge of organized crime structures, as well as the legalization of the use of undercover agents in "sting operations" to uncover government corruption. Lipsic revealed that a member of parliament has already been caught as a result of this law and is currently in pre-trial detention.
The Justice Ministry, Lipsic said, is working with the legislature to secure the adoption of laws needed not only in the fight against corruption, but also in the global war on terrorism. Lipsic noted that two more draft laws -- on conflict of interest and on the forfeiture of assets in cases where an individual cannot prove a legal source for his wealth, are to be voted on in the Slovak parliament on 15 December.
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