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Laws on COVID response team’s powers constitutional, court says

(Photo: HINA/ POOL/ CROPIX/)

ZAGREB, Sept 14 (Hina) – The Constitutional Court found on Monday that the laws on the powers of the national COVID response team adopted by parliament were in line with the constitution and that most of the decisions the team made because of the epidemic were lawful.

At a closed session, the court did not accept or dismissed most of the motions which disputed the legality of the team’s powers and decisions.

The court also repealed amendments to the law on the renting of flats.

All of today’s decisions were made with ten votes for and three against.

Constitutional Court President Miroslav Separovic said that the current method of informing the public of the court’s decisions was good while open sessions prior to the current court’s term in office were a show for the public.

Leaving the court building, Separovic told reporters that the media had not been invited to the session in line with the court’s usual practice and that publicity was secured otherwise.

Commenting on a motion by three judges that the court’s sitting be public, Separovic said that they had legitimately raised certain issues that could be changed. 

“Until now those questions were not posed. Until now we worked this way even though there had been considerable public interest,” Separovic said, adding that there was no reason not to work differently once epidemiological conditions allowed it.

He said that there was no need for today’s session to be open because all the contentious issues had been clarified, just as there was no need for the session to be attended by representatives of the government, the Covid-19 team, and those who put forward the motion for the court to decide on the lawfulness of the team’s decisions.

Separovic added that media representatives would not have been invited to a session of the kind that was held today even if the epidemiological situation had been better.

He said the court secured publicity by publishing its agendas, minutes, press releases, and by holding news conferences.

That practice has proved to be good until now, he said, adding that this was the first time the three judges, whom he respected very much and cooperated very well with, had raised the issue of the public being present while judges sat.

If we assess that something needs to be changed in practice, we’ll change it, he added.

When reminded by reporters that previously court sittings were public, Separovic said that they were a show for the public.

He added that when he was appointed Constitutional Court president, judges unanimously decided that they do not wish public shows but serious debates at expert meetings, where issues were discussed in detail.

Separovic announced that a press conference on today’s court decision would be held most probably next Thursday after dissenting opinions were submitted.

HND protests against Constitutional Court decision

The Croatian Journalists Association (HND) strongly condemned the Constitutional Court’s decision not to allow reporters to attend its session discussing decisions of the national COVID-19 response team.

“The HND strongly protests against the Constitutional Court’s decision which prevents media from covering its session focusing on the lawfulness of decisions made by the national COVID-19 response team on epidemiological measures during the coronavirus pandemic,” the umbrella journalists’ association said in a statement.

It noted that the court’s decision was contrary to democratic standards, media freedoms, and the right of the public to be informed of all court decisions, notably the latest one.

Earlier in the day, the Constitutional Court decided that its session discussing the legality of measures introduced to fight the coronavirus epidemic would not be attended by media representatives.

Court secretary-general Teodor Antic said that once the court made a decision, it would issue a statement, and once its decision was published and sent to the parties that had put forward the proposal for a public debate, the court president would hold a news conference.

The HND said it did not believe the Constitutional Court’s promise that all questions from the press would be answered fully and in a timely manner, noting that preventing reporters from following the court session “leaves one with a strong impression that the Constitutional Court is hiding something from reporters and the public.”

“And all of that is happening in an EU country which until recently chaired the EU,” the HND said.

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