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Czech Gov't decides to give ombud more powers

Prague, 8.12.2014 23:08, (ROMEA)
Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (left), Czech ombud Anna Šabatová (right) (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)
Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (left), Czech ombud Anna Šabatová (right) (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

The Czech Government decided today to expand the powers of the Public Defender of Rights (the ombud). That office will now be able to ask that the Constitutional Court abolish controversial laws or parts thereof.

The ombud will also be able to file public lawsuits over discrimination. The change to the law was proposed by Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (ČSSD - Czech Social Democratic Party).

The cabinet had already mentioned the change in its program declaration. According to the background documentation prepared for the Government, it is precisely the ombud who regularly encounters problematic legal provisions during its investigation of people's complaints, provisions that may be unconstitutional. 

Currently only the President or a group of at least 41 MPs or 17 Senators may ask the Constitutional Court to rule on legislation. Under certain conditions, the Government, a Regional Authority, or an individual involved in the problem can also file motions there.

Dienstbier said previously that the new powers for the ombud would enhance human rights protections, as reportedly there is not always the political will to address legislative discrepancies. The ombud will also now be able to file public actions over discrimination.

Previously only the victims of discrimination could bring such cases to court. However, according to the justification of the proposed expansion, the resolution of an individual case through the courts does not guarantee that discriminatory behavior will be eliminated across the board.

A court order banning unequal treatment with respect to one individual does not prohibit continuing such behavior with other people. "In matters of discrimination, a public action is an appropriate instrument for ending behavior that often concerns the rights of a very large circle of persons," the authors of the bill explain.

The Public Defender of Rights will also be newly empowered to monitor the fulfillment of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Now that its powers are expanded, the office of the ombud will be hiring 10 new staffers.

It will cost one million crowns to equip the new staffers' workplaces and buy computer technology, while operations and salaries will cost CZK 6.26 million annually. It will also create an advisory body to focus on the issue of disability rights.

That advisory body will have a maximum of 15 members and will meet four times annually. The operations of such a council should cost CZK 653 000 per year.

During the first year following these changes, the overall costs will be roughly CZK 7.91 million total and will cost a million crowns less during the following years, according to the authors of the bill. According to the Government's legislative plan, the changes should take effect as of 2016.

However, the text of the amendment says the deadline for the legislation to take effect is 60 days after it has been published in the collection of laws. Ombud Anna Šabatová could acquire the new powers before 2016, which means she could be monitoring the fulfillment of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities as of July 2015.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Diskriminace, Ombudsman, Osobnosti, Soud



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