Jan Svatoň, the new constitutional judge and former dean of the Brno Faculty of Law, gave an interview to ČTK on February 20, 2023 in Brno.
Brno – Although he is officially the youngest in the composition of constitutional judges, he is not a newcomer to the Constitutional Court (ÚS) – long-time university teacher Jan Svatoň has gradually worked as an assistant to three judges. He sees his work and life experience as his main asset and contribution to the future decision-making of the court. In an interview with ČTK, he emphasized that the ÚS must not abandon its value orientation, which has been taking shape since the 1990s, and that for him personally, for example, the topic of social justice is important, as well as the knowledge that the court often decides not only on constitutionality in general, but ultimately result about specific people.
When President Miloš Zeman appointed Svatoně as a judge, he expressed the hope that the ÚS would not be the third chamber of the Parliament and that its representatives would not be political activists. According to Svatoně, the court inevitably encounters the “political” in its decision-making, for example when it decides on proposals to repeal laws or their parts, but it should keep a distance from politics and assess primarily the constitutionality, but also the expediency and meaning of specific legal regulation. “The court is understandably touching politics in this way, but it should not solve issues for politicians,” said Svatoň.
With the arrival of Svatoně, another major change of the Court of Justice begins, the incoming President Petr Pavel will be given the opportunity to appoint 13 judges from the 15-member composition during his term of office. Svatoň hopes that there will be a mix of judges from different legal professions, and thus also different perspectives on problems.
He himself wants to contribute both with his erudition as a long-time pedagogue of constitutional law and political science at the Brno Faculty of Law, and with the experience gained in the position of assistant to judges Jiří Malenovský, Vojen Güttler and most recently Vladimír Sládeček. “These are experiences that cannot be obtained from books, textbooks or commentaries,” he said.
Svatoň became a judge of the Supreme Court in his 70s, when general court judges leave the judiciary due to the age limit. However, Svatoň believes that life experience is important when making decisions, he mentioned a certain “wisdom with age”, which is manifested, for example, in the ability to empathize with people's fates.
“We make decisions about constitutionality, but de facto decisions are often made about human destinies. So it's not just about something, but above all about someone. Of course, we can realize it at any age, but it's very intense at an older age,” he said.< /p>
One of the most important decisions of the ÚS Svatoň is already its first decision, by which the judges in 1993 rejected the proposal to abolish the law on the illegality of the communist regime and on resistance against it. In its ruling, the Court of Appeals primarily pointed out that the then new constitution was not based on value neutrality, it was not just a mere definition of institutions and processes, but incorporated into its text ideas expressing the basic inviolable values of a democratic society.
“In my opinion, it has not lost any of its relevance since then. It is still important both for the decision-making of the Ús and for the operation of public power in general,” Svatoň said. For him, social justice is also important, but also a certain reasonableness, the expediency of legal regulation – whether it has its justification, whether it is appropriate and necessary. “If it is justified, then of course it is better accepted,” said Svatoň, according to whom “society is not here for the state, but on the contrary, the state is for society”.
Svatoň will continue to work at the Faculty of Law to a limited extent in Brno, where he has been teaching for about 45 years and refers to it as his alma mater, while he is said to be bound to ÚS by a “fatal attraction”. The native of Jihlava lived part of his life in the Vysočina, and his love for cross-country skiing has remained with him ever since. He has been a fan of big beat and rock since the second half of the 1960s. “I like people. I say this, even though it may seem like a platitude to some. And I really liked teaching. It inspired me all my life. And I will still teach a little,” said Svatoň.