Czech Government is neutral on introducing public interest prosecutions of discrimination
A bill in the lower house of the Czech Parliament to introduce public interest prosecutions of discirmination will be neither rejected nor supported by the Government of ANO and the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD). At the cabinet meeting on 10 April ministers adopted a neutral stance on the bill.
The proposed template would shift the burden of proof from those suing to those being sued in all individual disputes falling under the Antidiscrimination Act. The right to file a public interest prosecution, according to the bill drafted by a group of MPs from the governing parties plus the opposition Pirates, would be granted to NGOs involved in defending the rights of victims of discrimination.
Those groups would be able to ask a court to decide whether discrimination had happened or not, to rule that it must end, and to rule that the consequences of the discrimination must be eliminated. "Prosecutions seeking the restoration of a previous state of affairs or designation of discrimination are not appropriate for public interest prosecution in the form proposed, as they already assume there is a much greater interest in the outcome of the proceedings by those impacted without their having any kind of guaranteed position in the proceedings," the Government's legislative analysts wrote about the bill.
Analysts also cast doubt on the provision stating that if the prosecution were to mention a specific person as having been discriminated against, that person would have to agree with the filing of the prosecution in advance. That arrangement could lead to the erroneous impression that the nonprofit organizations would actually represent the individual in the proceeding, the legal analysts say.
Public interest prosecutions could, according to the bill, target possibly discriminatory behavior affecting a bigger number of people or cases of unequal treatment that could, due to their extent and social impact, significantly endanger the public interest. Currently lawsuits against discrimination can only be filed by individuals.
"Prosecutions in the public interest can reduce the amount of lawsuits filed in each individaul case of discrimination and thereby also relieve the overburdened courts, as well as save money on the cost to each party of conducting a dispute," the authors of the bill wrote. Such public interest prosecutions could, in their view, be of a preventive character also.
The cabinet recalled, in association with that aspect, that it is currently planning to introduce the option of collective action, of which victims of discrimination could also take advantage. Shifting the burden of proof for all discrimination disputes is justified by those submitting the bill through their allegation that the current form of the law disadvantages some vulnerable groups of people, for example, people living with disabilities or senior citizens.
Currently, shifting the burden of proof only happens in disputes about racial discrimination, employment or professional discrimination, or unequal access to goods and services based on sex. The Chamber of Commerce of the Czech Republic recommended the Government reject the bill.
"Today prosecutions to defend the public interest in administrative jurisprudence are already available to the Public Defender of Rights and the State Prosecutor, so the question, therefore, is why they should be made newly available to nonprofit organizations. Also, the fines levied by auditing bodies in cases of proven discrimination, whether involving a specific individual or an unspecified number of persons, are currently sufficient," Miroslav Diro, press spokesperson for the Chamber of Commerce, said in a press release.
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