Varuh ДЌlovekovih pravic

The question of the appropriateness of exhibiting confiscated items in court premises

The Ombudsman was made aware of a case where a baseball bat with the inscription "We recommend kindness" was exhibited in mailroom of the District Court in Ljubljana. This case raised concerns about the potential threat such props could pose to court visitors.

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The Ombudsman asked the District Court in Ljubljana and the Ministry of Justice (MP) for explanations about the circumstances of the presence of the baseball bat and the measures taken. The court explained that the bat had been confiscated in a criminal case and was temporarily stored on a window ledge due to space constraints, but was intended for destruction.

The Ombudsman expressed concern about the appropriateness of displaying such objects in court premises, as this could affect the perception of security and respect for human rights. He emphasised the importance of zero tolerance for violence and threats and the importance of maintaining professionalism and tolerant communication in state bodies. The Ombudsman also suggested that the spatial and organisational conditions of the courts be examined in order to prevent the recurrence of such cases.

According to the Ombudsman, it was otherwise unlikely that in the specific case it could be a coincidence and that the bat had been placed on the window ledge by an unnamed employee of the court (with the knowledge of a large number of court staff that this object had been displayed there for several days) primarily with the aim that both the bat and the inscription on it could be seen by visitors to the court and court staff. According to the Ombudsman, the fact that such inappropriate handling of the confiscated object could not have been accidental (or that it was not within the scope of the prescribed handling of confiscated objects) also follows from the court's explanations that the inscription "We recommend kindness" was not on the bat at the time when it was confiscated, as well as that the object on the window ledge was not kept in a suitable paper wrapper nor equipped with a suitable label.

According to the court's explanations, objects that are seized and used as evidence in criminal proceedings are, as a rule, kept in a suitable paper wrapper or in cardboard boxes and are also appropriately marked with the processing number of the case or the number of the seized object. The court did not specifically explain why this was not the case in this particular case. Even otherwise, it is important that the objects entrusted to the courts as part of their work (even if they are intended for destruction) are handled only in the way that is foreseen by the individual procedures (that is that they are not displayed unnecessarily and not written on).

In the context of the case under consideration, the Ombudsman additionally highlighted the necessity for state authorities to always strive for tolerant communication with clients and to maintain a high level of professionalism within the framework of their tasks, and to do everything necessary to comply with the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Public Employees. Any messages or signs placed in these institutions must therefore, in the Ombudsman's opinion, also reflect the values ​​that can reasonably be expected from the employees of these institutions and therefore must not contain threats or violent messages.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed the position of the Ombudsman and explained that the Ministry also agrees that tolerant and polite communication of employees in state bodies with each other and in relation to clients is necessary, that it must be defended and insisted on at all times, and that all factors and circumstances must be eliminated which could influence the expression of the values ​​of the state body and which are in conflict with the code of (professional) ethics of the employees. Since in the specific case it was a one-time and distant event, the Service for the Control of the Organisation of the Courts of the Ministry of Justice considered that there was no legal basis and no need to carry out an extraordinary control.

Considering the circumstances of the specific case, in which almost a year had passed by the time the Ombudsman was aware of it, the Ombudsman himself did not focus on the need to search for the individual who, with their reckless behaviour, could have caused some visitors to the court at least discomfort, if not a more severe reaction.

However, according to the Ombudsman, the case under consideration also reflects the need for careful handling of seized items and maintaining a high level of professionalism in state bodies, with the aim of ensuring a safe and respectful environment for all court visitors and employees. 15.0-3/2023