Slovak Constitutional Court awards compensation to Roma for 13-year court case - but the discrimination sued over still has no final ruling
The Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic has awarded compensation to four Romani plaintiffs for the delays they have experienced seeking redress for discrimination that happened almost 13 years ago. The plaintiffs filed suit after the personnel at a pub in a village near Vranov nad Topľou refused them service because of their ethnic origin in November 2005.
The Constitutional Court found several instances of misconduct by the lower courts that caused unnecessary delays in the proceedings, awarded each of the Romani plaintiffs EUR 1 000 in compensation for that misconduct, and ordered they be reimbursed the costs of bringing the lawsuit. They first filed in March 2006.
The case was one of the first about discrimination on an ethnic basis to be filed with the courts after the adoption of the Anti-Discrimination Act in 2004. The plaintiffs sought redress for discriminatory treatment they encountered at an establishment in the village of Čaklov.
"We were driving home that day from a business trip in Prešov and we stopped there to take a break. The personnel simply told us they do not serve Gypsies," one of the Romani plaintiffs recalled.
The District Court partially agreed with the plaintiffs more than once, but the Prešov Regional Court repeatedly overturned the lower court decisions. The Regional Court judgments were then themselves repeatedly overturned on appeal by the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic.
In 2014 the Prešov Regional Court rejected the lower court's verdict a third time. The plaintiffs appealed in March of that year.
The District Court in Vranov nad Topľou then failed to provide the Supreme Court with what it needed to handle the appeal for more than four years. The entire court proceedings has taken 13 years so far.
In February 2018 the plaintiffs filed a constitutional complaint with the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic. They described the inaction of the lower courts as a violation of their right to have their case adjudicated without unnecessary delays.
The Constitutional Court ruling describes significant misconduct by the District Court which, after the Supreme Court returned the case file to it for completion in December 2014, failed to act on the matter for more than four years. "We are glad that after 13 years, this case has somehow moved forward. We continue to wait for the courts to finally rule on the discrimination perpetrated by the owner of the establishment, though. We thank our attorney for her cooperation and patience," the Romani plaintiffs said in a statement about the Constitutional Court ruling.
"This decision by the Constitutional Court has demonstrated how difficult and time-consuming it is - even 15 years after the adoption of the Anti-Discrimination Act - to achieve justice in discrimination cases in our country, especially in cases of racial discrimination. Such court proceedings frequently last an unbelievably long time. I do, however, perceive as very important that the injured parties, even after so many years, are continuing this case and demanding justice. Cases such as this facilitate the revelation of deficiencies in the assessment of discrimination cases by the courts, which can then be pointed out, and they create a certain pressure for the gradual improvement of the courts' decision-making practice," said the legal representative of the injured parties, Vanda Durbáková.
This is the second decision from the Constitutional Court in such a matter within a brief time recently. In March 2019 the court awarded compensation for delays in court proceedings to a Romani man who sought redress for discrimination in access to employment and whose case was ignored by the lower courts for years.
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