Chapters of the article
What kind of courts do we have in the Czech Republic?
The system of general courts consists of district, regional and high courts and the Supreme Court. The district and regional courts decide disputes and other legal matters in the first instance, and the law determines which court to go to in the first instance. The county and high courts then decide appeals against decisions of the district and county courts. The Supreme Court mainly decides on appeals.
We have 88district courts in total and they form the basis of our judiciary. However, the inhabitants of our two largest cities know them by slightly different names: in the district of the city of Brno, the Municipal Court in Brno exercises the jurisdiction of the district court, and in Prague, the district courts exercise the jurisdiction of the district courts. In Prague, instead of a regional court, we speak of the Municipal Court in Prague. The Regional Court in Prague has its seat in the capital city of Prague, however, its jurisdiction is given only to the municipalities of the Central Bohemian Region. However, it does not differ from other district and regional courts in anything other than its name.
There are only twoHigh Courts in the Czech Republic and they are responsible for appeals against first instance decisions of regional courts.
Are you going to court?
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TheSupreme Court is the highest judicial authority. It decides mainly on extraordinary appe als (i.e. appeals in civil proceedings and complaints for breach of law in criminal proceedings). It also has the important function of unifying Czech case law, especially when there are different decisions of lower courts in a similar situation.
Outside the system of general courts is the Supreme Administrative Court, which is a judicial body specialised exclusively in the field of administrative justice. It also comes into play at election time, when it decides on electoral matters and is often mentioned in the media in connection with the dissolution of political parties and political movements. A well-known example was that of the Workers’ Party, whose activities were found to be illegal and therefore dissolved.
The Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic is a separate chapter. Although it is sometimes regarded by laymen as a kind of last resort to which one can turn whenever all else fails, this is far from being the case. The Constitutional Court is supposed to protect and guarantee the constitutionality of the legal order. In relation to natural and legal persons, it can only intervene if their fundamental human rights have been violated.
Where can I find the criminal, civil and registry courts?
In practice, we encounter many other court names that can confuse us. However, there is no need to look for other court buildings behind them. As a rule, these are some of the courts already mentioned. Let us take a closer look at some of the names.
TheCourt of Registry is the court designated by law to keep the commercial register in which the details of businesses are entered. It is always a regional court.
Commercial courts have been part of our judicial system in the past, but are sometimes still referred to by the public as county courts, because they deal with the bulk of disputes involving companies in the first instance.
In addition, we sometimes see the designation criminal court, civil court (or civil court). However, there are also no other specialised courts operating outside the ones already mentioned. In practice, it is the case that within a particular court some judges carry out the civil justice agenda and others deal with criminal law. The same is true of the administrative justice system in regional courts. Each court therefore has certain areas or agendas which it administers and if I approach it, for example, in criminal proceedings, I can describe it as a ‘criminal court’.
Let us not look for anything special under the term Court of Cassation either. It is simply a court that decides appeals.
The only exception to the above is the Court of Arbitration. Here it is indeed a separate institution, which is established at the Chamber of Commerce of the Czech Republic. It is decided by arbitrators registered under the Arbitration Act. The Court of Arbitration is the only institution in the world authorised to arbitrate domain disputes concerning .eu domains, in addition to arbitrating disputes concerning .cz, .com, .org, .net, .biz and other domains. It is also the only Czech institution authorised to arbitrate consumer disputes.
Tip: In exceptional cases where the Czech Republic, through one of its courts or other bodies, has violated a fundamental right guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg can be approached.
When does the district court decide and when does the county court decide?
Each court’s jurisdiction is divided according to the rules on subject matter and local jurisdiction, with the jurisdiction of the court and the judge being determined by law. Subject-matter jurisdiction determines which type of court (e.g. whether district or county court) will deal with cases of a certain type, in addition to whether it will hear cases at first instance or as a court of appeal. Local jurisdiction then determines which particular court (whether in Olomouc or Hradec Králové) will hear the case. This may be determined, for example, by the residence or registered office of the defendant, the place where the crime was committed, or the location of the property at issue in the proceedings. The Civil Procedure Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and certain other provisions lay down precise rules in this respect.
- District courts have, in principle, subject-matter jurisdiction in most civil (also enforcement, care of minors) and criminal cases at first instance.
- Regional courts decide at first instance on legally more complex matters, such as disputes concerning the protection of personality, copyright, company law, etc. In criminal proceedings, they hear cases such as murder, some cases of robbery or rape at first instance.
- There are twohigh courts, in Prague and Olomouc. They are mainly courts of appeal against decisions of regional courts, if these courts have ruled at first instance.
Individual judges serving on the courts may be appointed after meeting relatively demanding conditions. The basic conditions are, of course, Czech citizenship, legal capacity and good character. A university degree in law and a judicial examination (preceded by three years of experience as a judicial candidate) are also required. They are appointed to their office by the President of the Republic.
Judges decide in some cases alone, as so-called single judges, and in other cases in panels. The rule of first instance courts is that they are decided by a single judge. Appeals are decided by the courts in panels of three judges.
Representatives of the people
In a Czech court, you are guaranteed not to hear a question about whether the jury has reached a verdict of guilty or not guilty. However, even lay people can be represented in our system as the aforementioned jurors. They sit in the robes alongside the professional judge, the president of the chamber, in some cases at the first stage of decision-making. They attend all criminal trials before the district court and the county court when they are sitting as a court of first instance and dealing with a crime whose lower limit of punishment is five years or more. In civil court proceedings, the panel with the participation of the presiding judges decides only in proceedings before the district court in labour matters.
Only a judge (including a presiding judge) who is not disqualified from hearing the case and who is capable of making an independent, impartial and fair decision may decide individual legal cases. A judge is disqualified if, having regard to his or her relationship to the case, the parties or their representatives, there is reason to suspect that he or she is biased. In doing so, he may either inform the parties himself that he is disqualified or the superior court may decide on his disqualification on the basis of an objection by a party.