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Czech ombud may soon acquire more powers, bill counts on it

Prague, 8.8.2014 0:20, (ROMEA)
Anna Šabatová on the program
Anna Šabatová on the program "Questions with Václav Moravec"", 23 February 2014 (Photo: Czech Television)

The Czech ombud could soon have more powers than the office currently holds today. In future she might be able to turn to the Constitutional Court to propose the abolition of contoversial legislation or parts of laws, and she might also be able to file public lawsuits over discrimination.

A draft amendment to the law on the Public Defender of Rights (the ombud) that has been published by the Government on its website counts on both those changes. Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) proposed the change to the law.

The law on the ombud first took effect in the year 2000 and has yet to be amended. Currently the Public Defender of Rights is not able to ask the Constitutional Court to evaluate and potentially abolish controversial laws or sections of such laws.

According to background materials submitted to the Government, the ombud regularly encounters problematic provisions that might be unconstitutional when investigating the complaints received by her office. Currently only the President, a group of at least 41 lower house MPs, or a group of at least 17 Senators are allowed to turn to the Constitutional Court.  

Under certain restricted conditions, the court may also be approached by the Government, a Regional Authority, or by an individual with a problem. Minister Dienstbier previously told the Czech News Agency that the new powers for the ombud would enhance human rights protections and that there is reportedly not always enough political will available to address legislative discrepancies.

The ombud could also receive a new power, that of being permitted to file public suits over discrimination. Currently only a victim of discrimination is permitted to turn to the courts in this regard.

According to the justification in the proposal, however, handling such a case through the courts is no guarantee that the discriminatory behavior will be eliminated across the board. The ban on the unequal treatment of one person does not prevent a discriminator from continuing to treat others in such a way.

"In matters of discrimination, a public lawsuit is an appropriate tool for ending behavior that often affects the rights of a very broad class of people," the authors of the bill say. The ombud would also be able, according to the bill, to monitor the fulfillment of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  

The Office of the Public Defender of Rights would hire 15 employees to perform these new activities. A total of CZK 1.5 million would be needed to equip their workplace and install computer technology, while operations and salaries would cost CZK 9.4 million.

An advisory council focusing on these issues would also be created. Its annual functioning would cost CZK 653 000.

The authors of the bill report that the total expenditures during the first year the new powers would be in operation should reach roughly CZK 11.5 million. According to the Government's legislative plan, Dienstbier was to have submitted the amendment in July for it to take effect as of 2016.

The text of the amendment, however, says it will take effect two months after being announced in the Collection of Laws. That means the ombud could acquire the new powers even sooner, and the bill calls for monitoring the fulfillment of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to start next July.  

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Anna Šabatová, Jiří Dienstbier, Ombud, Diskriminace



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