Can you rely on the “case law” in the Czech Republic?

9. 3. 2023

We assume that everyone who has ever considered asserting their rights in court has asked this question at some stage. The answer is: It depends. To rely on it - no. But anyone can defend against a decision that they consider to be a legally different assessment of a factually similar case already decided by (in particular) higher courts. That is, the Court of Appeal and, above all, the Supreme Court, or the Supreme Administrative Court and the Constitutional Court.

As two recent rulings of the Constitutional Court have shown, even in minor cases (here on a claim for compensation for a delayed flight) against which no appeal is admissible, the injured parties are not left without legal protection. The Constitutional Court overturned the judgments, precisely on the basis of extensive reasoning requiring the courts to ensure uniformity and legal predictability of judicial decisions. Otherwise, they violate both the constitutional order of the Czech Republic (in particular Article 36 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms) and the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, the violation of which gives rise to a right to review by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Moreover, the Constitutional Court pointed to the unfortunately often overlooked provision of Article 13 of the Civil Code: "Anyone seeking legal protection may reasonably expect that his legal case will be decided in a similar way to another legal case which has already been decided and which coincides with his legal case in its essential features; if the legal case has been decided differently, anyone seeking legal protection is entitled to a convincing explanation of the reason for this deviation."

Thanks to the Constitutional Court's emphasis on the predictability of judicial decisions, as demonstrated by the fact that it does not reject constitutional complaints even in trivial cases, it is hoped that the number of decisions against which - successfully - you will have to defend yourself on the grounds that the court has ignored existing similar decisions will decrease.

For the sake of completeness, we also list the limits set by the Constitutional Court: It is not the introduction of immutability of judicial practice, literally "jurisprudential rigidity", but the need for thorough and elaborate reasoning that explains the divergence in a convincing and reviewable manner. The parties are not, as a matter of principle, obliged to submit a similar decision in order for the court to have to follow it or deal with the reasoning of the decision to diverge from the legal opinion expressed therein, but if they do so, the court can never disregard the earlier judgment in argument, even by laconically stating that it is a different factual case.

In conclusion, it is worth noting that the human rights obligations to legal protection and certainty include the obligation to reconcile the decisions of both administrative and civil (and eventually criminal) courts. If you encounter the opposing party's claim that we do not have a system of precedents in the Czech Republic, so that the disputed provision can be interpreted arbitrarily, then the answer is, with reference to Section 13 of the Civil Code, that the court may not, of course, decide on things in a totally unfounded manner.

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