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Reform of judicial appointments announced

The coalition parties have tabled constitutional amendments under which the appointment of judges would no longer be in the hands of the National Assembly but the presidential office, a move they say would depoliticise judicial appointments and end a system that is unusual in the EU.

Under the proposed changes, Judicial Council would still play the main role in the appointment procedure, vetting the candidates, but the president would have the final say.

The judges would however have to undergo a three-year probation period, a departure from the current system where they automatically get lifetime tenure.

The changes do not affect the appointment of Constitutional Court judges, which will remain in the hands of the National Assembly.

"The office of the president of the republic is much less political than the National Assembly, and the electoral function of the National Assembly in this area is an anomaly," Lucija Tacer, an MP for the ruling Freedom Movement, said on 28 September.

She believes the changes provide for the separation of powers and for the powers of the president and parliament being more evenly balanced.

Broader consensus needed

Since a two-thirds majority - or 60 votes in the 90-seat parliament - is needed and the coalition has only 53, the coalition has reached out to the opposition New Slovenia's (NSi), which has indicated it was open to supporting the amendments.

It remains unclear to what extent the NSi's support is contingent on the coalition's endorsement of a set of amendments to the Constitution that the party recently proposed and which involves changes to the electoral system and the appointment of government ministers, and the abolition of the upper chamber of parliament.

NSi deputy group leader Jo┼żef Horvat said the NSi's proposal was indeed broader but they understood how politics works and "we will proceed one step at a time" and take an active part in the parliamentary procedure.

Judges welcome changes

The Judges' Association and the Judicial Council have expressed support the proposal because it addresses long-standing problems with judicial appointments.

"The Judicial Council has repeatedly warned of the inadequacy of the system of appointing judges, especially to the Supreme Court," it said.

"The judiciary needs the best jurists, and it is therefore essential that party politics is removed from the appointment of judges."

Similarly, the Judges' Association welcomed the changes as the coming true of "long-standing efforts to end the direct influence of political parties on the judiciary."

This is particularly important in appointing Supreme Court judges "as the current arrangement poses a risk of their direct political 'sanctioning" for trials they chaired at lower instances".

The National Assembly will now have to first set up a constitutional commission, which is expected at the ongoing plenary, and then a special commission of experts on constitutional law will be established to hash out a final proposal.

The process of amending the Constitution typically takes many months or even years.

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