The Supreme Court of the Czech Republic

It was Act No. 5/1918 Coll., which established the Supreme Court of the Czechoslovak Republic and defined its jurisdiction. Originally, the court seated in Prague, but it was moved to Brno in 1919. The Supreme Court was the third instance for both civil and criminal matters, moreover, it could make suggestions for passing laws relating to justice as well as amendments thereto. Its structure was almost identical to that of the Supreme Court of Justice and Cassation in Vienna, as it functioned until 1918. The Supreme Court consisted of the First and the Second President, seven presidents of the panels (after1930 their number increased to 9) and forty council members (forty-eight council members after 1930).

As the Protectorate was established, there were two Supreme Courts after 1945 and the Slovak Supreme Court with its seat in Bratislava was added to the original Supreme Court of the First Republic. In 1945 and 1946, the agreements with the Slovak National Council were reached saying that the two supreme courts in Brno and Bratislava would be considered, keeping their structure and jurisdiction according to the then current legislation, as a part of one Supreme Court seated in Brno.

As the Act on the Popularization of the Judiciary was adopted in 1948, the composition of the Supreme Court was completed by appointing required number of lay judges. The panels were made up of two professional judges and three lay judges. When deciding a case, their votes were equal. The lay judges even took part in decisions on complaints of the violation of law. In view of the fact that in this cases the lay judges were appointed by the government, the principles of impartiality and independence were seriously violated.

With 1968 Constitutional Act on the Czechoslovak Federation, new structure of federal authorities was established. Besides the Supreme Court of the Czechoslovak Federation, the Supreme Courts were also established in the Czech Republic as well as in the Slovak Republic. The Supreme Court of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic seated in Prague was the highest judicial authority for the entire Federation. Its main task was to oversight legality of court decisions and to ensure uniformity of the case law. Its jurisdiction was practically identical to the one presently existing, except that the Supreme Court has never decided cases as the court of first instance. Specifically, the Supreme Court reviewed legality of final decisions, where death penalty was imposed. By that time, there were only panels made up of three or five members, all solely professional judges and the court had three divisions - civil, criminal and martial.

After 1989, there were only personnel changes in the entire system of judiciary. The Court's organizational structure and jurisdiction remained unchanged. The fundamental change came with the break up of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, the system of federal and republic authorities was cancelled and the jurisdiction belonging to the Supreme Court of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic were passed onto the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic on January 1, 1993.

Composition and Structure of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is composed of the President of the Supreme Court, the Vice-President, Heads of Divisions, Chairmen of panels and other judges. The President and the Vice-President of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President of the Republic. Judges decide cases in accordance with their own consciences and are bound solely by the law.

As a rule, the Supreme Court sits in panels consisting of a Chairman and two judges or it sits in Grand Panels of the Divisions.

Under Act No. 30/2000 Sb. (the Amendment of the Courts and Judges Act), the Grand Panels of the Divisions were constituted at the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic from January 1, 2001. The Grand Panels are made up of at least nine judges of the same Division.

The Grand Panel of the Division shall decide the case if any of the panels of the Supreme Court referred the case to it. The panel of the Supreme Court shall do so if it holds a legal opinion that differs from a previous legal opinion already expressed in another decision of the Supreme Court.

The panels made up of three members have jurisdiction to decide on extraordinary appeal, in criminal cases also on complaints for the violation of law and on the recognition and enforcement of decisions issued by foreign courts on the territory of the Czech Republic, where this is required by a special legal regulation or an international agreement.

Each panel is headed by a Chairman responsible for organizing its work including the allocation of cases to each member of the panel.

The judges of the Supreme Court form Divisions according to their specialization. At present, the Supreme Court has two Divisions, namely the Civil Law and Commercial Division and the Criminal Division. Each Division is presided over by a Head of the Division who manages and organizes its activities.

In ensuring the legality and consistency of decision-making of the courts, the Divisions analyse and evaluate legally effective decisions of lower courts and generalize the information received, submit to the President of the Supreme Court proposals to adopt standpoints on the courts decision-making in matters of particular kind referred to them by the Division, on the proposal of the Chief Justice, Head of Division or the Grand Panel adopt standpoints, select judgements and decide on their publication in the Collection of Decisions and Standpoints. The Divisions hold their meetings in private.

The most important body of the Supreme Court is the Plenum, which consists of the President of the Supreme Court, the Vice-President of the Supreme Court, Heads of the Divisions, Chairmen of the Panels and other judges of the Supreme Court. The Plenum sittings are held in private. The Plenum discusses the Supreme Court´s Rules of Procedure and in the interest of consistent decision-making of the courts it adopts standpoints on the courts decision-making in the matters of particular kind in issues pertaining to both Divisions or those disputable between the Divisions.

The President of the Supreme Court carries out jurisdiction concerning the Supreme Court, fulfils administrative and managing roles, organizes the activities of other judges of the Supreme Court, in particular by issuing the Work Schedule for the period of one year after is discussed with the Council of Judges, issues the Rules of Procedure of the Supreme Court after this is discussed by the Plenum, issues the Office Rules and the Rules of Organization, presides over the Assemblies of judges, may take part in sessions of any Division, presides over or sits in a panel according to the Work Schedule, convenes the sessions of the Plenum, determines their programme and presides over their sessions, on the basis of final courts´ decisions makes proposals addressed to the Divisions of the Plenum for adoption of a standpoint on the courts decision-making in matters of particular kind, takes heed of the dignity of the proceedings, of the observance of judicial ethics and smoothness of the proceedings, deals with complaints of delays in the proceedings, improper conduct or disturbance of the proceedings´ dignity by judges and other employees of the Supreme Court or by the President of the High Court.

The Vice-President of the Supreme Court takes part in the performance of the Court´s administrative and judicial work, especially representing the President of the Supreme Court in his/her absence, carries out other duties delegated to him/her by the President of the Supreme Court. In particular, on the authority of the President, the Vice-President of the Supreme Court manages issuing of the Collection of Judicial Decisions and Standpoints.

The Council of Judges is established at the Supreme Court as a consultative body of the Chief Justice. The Council is presided over by its Chairman. Council of Judges meetings are held in private. Members of the Council of Judges are elected by the Assembly of all the Judges of the Supreme Court for the term of five years.

Since 2000, assistants have been cooperating with the judges. They prepare material for the decision making and assist the judges with performance of their other duties.