Vaclav Klaus’s Partial Amnesty and Its Impact on the Czech System of Justice

At the beginning of 2013, a partial amnesty by the President of the Czech Republic was (and still is) undoubtedly one of the most discussed issues in the country. The partial Amnesty was announced by Vaclav Klaus during his regular New Year presidential speech on 1st of January, 2013, actually, his last speech as the Czech President. This article explains the main impact of the Amnesty as well as topics of discussion that have been started immediately after Klaus‘s decision has become effective.

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The Czech president and his right to grant amnesty

An institution of “amnesty” is a long-term part of Czechoslovak/Czech legislation. Since 1918, Czech presidents have granted thirty amnesties (2013 Amnesty included). A right to announce amnesty is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Czech Republic (Chapter III., Art. 63). This right is defined as “a right with countersignature” which means, as the Constitution explains: “Decisions made by the President of the Republic pursuant to the provisions of paragraphs 1 (i.e. amnesty) and 2 shall be valid only if countersigned by the Prime Minister or by a member of the Government so authorized by the Prime Minister. Responsibility for a decision made by the President of the Republic, which must be countersigned by the Prime Minister or a member of the Government authorized by him, shall be borne by the Government.”[1] The Act No. 141/1961 (Criminal Procedure, spec. § 368 – The decision to use amnesty) defines the process of “amnesty article using”. It is not the President of the Republic that plays the key role, i.e. the final decision whether and to what extent a sentenced person participates in amnesty, but the system of courts (to be more specific: it is the court of the first instance or the court located in the region where a sentenced person is imprisoned).

In the history of the Czech Republic, three amnesties have been granted – two by President Vaclav Havel (1993, 1998) and one by President Vaclav Klaus (2013).

What does Klaus‘s amnesty entail?

The Amnesty announced by President Klaus is divided into 5 articles that define people who the Amnesty would be effective on. The first article completely forgives all persons with unconditional sentences of imprisonment or their remnants, all sentenced before 1st of January 2013, under the condition they are not longer than one year, or they are not longer than 10 years to people aged over 75.

The second article – abolition – stops all investigation and criminal proceedings (excluding people who  are hiding or people on the run) that have been active more than 8 years to the 1st of January 2013, all for imprisonments which would not exceed 10 years.

The third article of Klaus‘s pardon changes unconditional imprisonments or their residues to conditional sentences, all applicable to cases sentenced before 1st of January 2013 under the condition they do not exceed 2 years. This article does not apply to crimes resulting in death or serious injuries, for crimes against life and health, against human dignity in sexual matters, or against family and children, nor for persons who have been in the last 5 years unconditionally sentenced for any criminal activity or persons who have been released from prison in the last 2 years. The President also forgives all imprisoned (of maximum total length of 3 years) or their residues sentenced for crimes committed by persons who have already reached or who will reach the age of 70 years old during the year 2013.

The fourth article pardons all conditional sentences of imprisonment for people who have already reached or who will reach the age of 70 years old during the year 2013 as well as for people who committed crimes with conditional imprisonment of maximum length of 2 years. The last article says that all of the above is applicable also to juveniles and punishments imposed on juveniles.

A range of Vaclav Klaus‘s amnesty

The impact of Klaus‘s amnesty should by divided into 3 groups – unconditional imprisonment sentences, conditional imprisonment sentences and alternative punishments (community service, house arrest), and last but not least the abolition (investigations longer than 8 years, where a sentence has not been made, are stopped).

Presidential pardon to unconditional imprisonments (i.e. release of prisoners) has influenced about 6300 people from all thirty-six Czech prisons (from a total number of 23,000 prisoners). The Amnesty has also influenced unconditional imprisonments in the total number of about 8,000, house arrest has been stopped in 340 cases, an obligation to do community service has been annulled in 12,170 people.

A third group of cases is influenced by the abolition. Data of the Supreme Public Prosecutor‘s Office of the Czech Republic has not been completed yet, but the estimates indicate that about 100 – 150 cases are going to be stopped.

The whole process of the 2013 Amnesty has been secured by 285 judges, 111 public prosecutors and about 1000 office workers and employees of the Prison Service of the Czech Republic. Public prosecutors have filed more than 40 claims against using the Amnesty for serious cases they supervise. The direct costs of the Amnesty should not exceed 900,000 CZK (about 36,000 EUR).

Follow-up discussion

The amnesty granted by President Klaus has started a huge discussion about it, or criticism, to be more precise. An all-embracing topic in debates about the Amnesty can be expressed by a simple question: Why? Critics say that there was no objective factor to pardon crimes or to release imprisoned people – 20 years of existence of the Czech Republic is not, in comparison with the early 90s and pardons to people imprisoned during communist regime before 1989, any reason to intervene into the rule of law and the Czech justice. This kind of intervention is a negative stimulus for the work of the Police, the Public prosecutors and of judges as well and it creates a space for rent-seeking to persons who have prepared the amnesty, critics of Klaus‘s amnesty say.

Another big topic of the follow-up discussion is the countersignature of Prime Minister Petr Necas. This process – as the Constitution defines – means an agreement on shared responsibility of the Government. The fact is that some members of the Czech Government have refused this responsibility because they “have had no information about amnesty prepared or about its impact”. Political discussion about Prime Minister‘s right to refuse to countersign a document submitted by the President is still on-going, but the conclusion is not clear. Many Czech journalists and commentators say that the stability of the Government is not strong and the Amnesty definitely has not improved the position of the Government; the same thing can be said about people‘s (decreasing) confidence in the Government.

Last but not the least, the most discussed result of the Amnesty – a pardon to people suspected or sentenced for serious economic crimes – should be mentioned. Embezzlements, corruptions, frauds, illegal tax avoidance with damage in the amount of billions of CZK at the expense of state (taxpayers) or clients have been forgiven to people who, as the media say, had, still have or could have some connections to people who prepared the Amnesty. “We live in the Czech Republic – a suspicion of barter “quid pro quo” is automatic and it must be investigated,” main critics say.

At the moment, the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic is dealing with several complaints against the Amnesty. The complaints made by the Municipal Court in Prague and by members of the Upper Chamber of the Parliament of the Czech Republic (the Senate) are said to be the most serious ones. The Head of the Constitutional Court, Pavel Rychetsky, declared that constitutional judges are going to examine the Amnesty as soon as possible. The Court will examine especially the case from Argentina (2005), the only example where presidential amnesty has been canceled, Rychetsky said.

[1] Source: Constitution of the Czech Republic.