Czech lower house committee recommends not expanding ombudsman's powers
The Czech lower house may not decide to expand the powers of the Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) after all, as on 29 April its Constitutional Law Committee recommended supporting amendments that would remove from a proposed Government bill the option for the ombudsman to ask the Constitutional Court to repeal legislation in whole or in part and the option for the ombudsman to bring public interest lawsuits in cases of discrimination. The plenary could decide on the bill this month.
"We'll see whether the entire Chamber of Deputies shares that stance," Czech Human Rights and Legislation Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) told the Czech News Agency. He noted that about one-third of the committee members were absent when the recommendation was voted on.
"I continue to base my position on the assumption that this is a Government bill that was submitted on the basis of the Government's program declaration, which was approved by the three coalition parties that still hold a clear majority in the Chamber of Deputies," he pointed out. Reservations about expanding the ombudsman's powers, however, are being heard not just from the opposition, but also from MPs with the governing coalition parties of ANO, ČSSD, and the Christian Democrats.
If the lower house does not want to approve removing the two proposed powers from the bill entirely, the committee has recommended limiting them. Its recommendations were that the Public Defender of Rights only be able to file anti-discrimination lawsuits in cases where its office has encountered such violations during the course of its work.
Moreover, the discrimination would either have to concern a bigger number of people or the public interest would have to be seriously endangered by it. The committee also recommended that the ombudsman first be required to attempt to achieve redress through other means at its disposal.
As for motions to the Constitutional Court regarding the abolition of legislation, in whole or in part, the committee recommended that the ombudsman be able to file such motions only after negotiating them with the Petition Committee in the lower house. According to the committee's recommendations, the lower house should also approve an adjustment to the law on the ombudsman that would mean the office would not be able to acquire any information from private entities about matters falling within its purview.
On the other hand, the committee recommended augmenting the scope of the ombudsman's office to include upholding the rights of people living with disabilities. The committee did not issue an opinion on an amendment that would give the lower house the power to recall the Public Defender of Rights should the office holder commit serious wrongdoing or be in a poor state of health.
Currently in order to have standing to file a motion with the Constitutional Court for review of legislation one must be either the President, a group of 41 MPs, a group of 17 Senators, or under certain conditions the Government, a Regional Authority, or a private individual directly involved in the problem. Lawsuits over discrimination can currently only be filed by victims themselves.
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