Justice Minister Katič: Judiciary can win back trust by opening up
Katič, who served as defence minister under the previous government, said she was already deeply engaged in some of the projects started by her predecessor Goran Klemenčič.
These include changes to the criminal procedure act, which Slovenia should have already tweaked in 2015 to comply with the EU directive on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.
After Klemenčič's far-reaching changes to the law were vetoed by the upper chamber of parliament and failed to get repassed, Katič announced that the most contentious provisions would be withdrawn and that only the most urgent changes would be put forward in a pending proposal.
There have also been calls for some time now for changes to anti-corruption legislation. Katič said the changes were ready and had been coordinated with the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (KPK), "even if we perhaps did not reach a full consensus with KPK boss Boris Štefanec, since he wants a completely new law".
She feels that the changes were already needed "yesterday", which is why she is rooting for the faster method, meaning via amendments to existing legislation.
Katič said that while Štefanec and her disagreed on the role of the KPK, he is an important talking partner. She announced a decision would probably be taken by the end of the year.
Touching on hate speech, which has been a much debated topic publicly in the recent period, the minister said that the rise in hate speech was a worrying development, but that "changing repressive legislation should always be a final step that we want to avoid".
"The current legislation is worded in a very narrow fashion, but it is still broad enough for the authorities to be able to intervene," the minister said.
Katič feels that it would first be necessary to change media legislation and legislation governing offences. Still, "prosecutors and judges will also have to take on the issue of hate speech with a lot of courage in the future," she added.
Turning to the potential introduction of a test period for judges, referenced in the coalition agreement, Katič stressed the need to change the way judges are appointed.
"It is important to at least start a debate at the level of experts on politics withdrawing from the appointment process. If there is enough public pressure, politics might also be able to take a step forward," she said about the move that would require a two-thirds majority in parliament.
As regards a test period for judges, she said it would not be advisable to introduce it before politics withdraws from the appointment procedure.
Meanwhile, commenting on the ever more frequent public debates on and criticism of court decisions, Katič said that "public expectations are often very high, especially in big cases, but they are not always legitimate or attainable, which can cause disappointment".
She feels this could also be the result of the fairly reserved communication style on the part of prosecutions and courts.
"I find it vital that the judiciary opens up to the public, that the judicial stakeholders explain their decisions and thus avoid uncertainty, trust issues and wrong interpretations," Katič said, while stressing this did not pertain to open cases.
Katič is relieved that the debates on whether the rule of law is truly operative in Slovenia have calmed down, saying "Slovenia made major progress when it comes to the right to trial in a reasonable time".
"However the public continues to assess the judiciary, along with all other institutions in Slovenia, negatively. Criticism by certain exposed figures contributes a lot to this ... When the judiciary and prosecution open up, they limit the chance of their work and decisions being commented on inappropriately by somebody else," Katič said.
Reflecting on the new five-member coalition, which has been expanded with two more parties compared to when she served as defence minister, Katič said she had bad experience with efforts to change defence legislation in a situation when she even lacked support within the coalition.
"The new government consisting of a large number of parties that are fairly comparable strength-wise can also contribute to better solutions for the citizens, since more coordination is necessary," she argued.