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Last update: 27-02-2007
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Legal order - Czech Republic

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Sources of law 1.
2. The hierarchy of sources of law 2.
3. Legislative process 3.
4. Validity of legislation 4.

 

1. Sources of law

The legal order of the Czech Republic is made up of all of its legislation and related instruments. The most important legislative instruments are laws (zakony), i.e. collections of rules of behaviour governing the main areas in the life of individuals and society. More comprehensive acts (“codes” zakoniky) encompass a whole area of law and set out the detailed provisions in a systematic way. Laws encompassing a whole area of procedural law and setting out detailed procedural provisions are called codes of procedure (řády). Laws on the most important matters of state and on citizens’ and human rights (including the Constitution of the Czech Republic and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms) are known as constitutional laws (ústavní zákony) and there is a special procedure for their adoption.

The laws are underpinned by implementing regulations: government regulations, orders from ministries and central government bodies and from autonomous regional entities.

The legal order also includes international agreements that have been ratified by Parliament are thus binding on the Czech Republic. International agreements take priority over other legislation to the extent that an international agreement takes precedence over national law if the two differ on a given point.

Besides the types of legislation referred to above, European law has also applied in the Czech Republic since its accession to the European Union, in the same way as in other Member States.

Custom is not a source of law in the Czech Republic. However, in some cases the law allows custom to be taken into account in certain fields or legal areas. Where this is the case, it is specified by the law in question and the courts can enforce these provisions. The prevalent view therefore is that the legal source is not the legal principle or the custom itself but the law which refers to it. A court decision is not a source of law either. On the other hand, a court cannot refuse to take a decision because the law is incomplete or ambiguous. Often it must give its own interpretation of the matter, on which other courts will then, to a large extent, base their decisions, making it an automatic legal precedent. If the decision is published in the Sbírka soudních rozhodnutí a stanovisek (Official Journal of court decisions and opinions), where fundamental decisions of the supreme court are generally published, it is in fact considered as a source of law, even though it is not officially regarded as such.

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2. The hierarchy of sources of law

The Czech legal order is hierarchically structured. At the top is the constitution and the other constitutional laws; these carry the greatest legal authority and can be amended only by another constitutional law. Below these come ordinary laws, implementing regulations, which have the least legal weight. Laws of lesser legal weight must comply with those which are higher in the legal hierarchy. Legislation may only be appealed or amended by provisions of the same or greater legal weight. International agreements have special standing. As indicated above, they are part of the legal order and take precedence even over constitutional law in the event of a conflict between provisions.

As regards European law, the EU principle of the supremacy of Community law applies just as in the other Member States. Under this principle, European legislation takes precedence when there is a conflict between national law (laws, orders, etc.) and European law. This applies both where there is a conflict between national law and primary Community legislation (the Treaties) and between national law and secondary Community legislation (regulations, directives, etc.). Nor, according to the prevailing interpretation of the law, are the highest national legal instruments exempt - European law even takes precedence over the constitution and the constitutional laws of Member States.

For international agreements to become part of the legal order and thus binding on the Czech Republic, Parliament must ratify them - provided of course that they do not need to be ratified by means of a referendum under constitutional law. The President of the Republic ratifies international agreements. After ratification, the Czech version of the agreement must be published in the Sbírka mezinárodních smluv (Official Journal of international agreements).

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3. Legislative process

The law‑making body of the Czech Republic is its Parliament, which is made up of two independent chambers - the Chamber of Deputies (200 members) and the Senate (81 senators). The law‑making process starts with the right of initiative. Individual members of Parliament or groups of members, the Senate, the government, and the regional authorities have the right to propose new laws and amendments to existing laws. Only the government may propose laws concerning the state budget or closure of the national accounts; only the Chamber of Deputies may decide on such laws. The government, however, has the right to express its opinion on any proposed law (bill). The Chamber of Deputies first discusses and if necessary amends the bill in three successive readings. Approval of the law requires a simple majority of the deputies present.

The President of the Chamber of Deputies sends the bill to the Senate as soon as possible and the Senate has just 30 days to discuss it - in contrast to the often long-drawn-out discussions in the Chamber of Deputies, which sometimes last for months. By the end of that time, the Senate must approve, reject or return an amended version of the bill to the Chamber of Deputies. It can also decide that it will not discuss the bill at all. If the Senate approves the bill or decides not to discuss it, or if it has expressed no opinion by the deadline, the law is deemed to be adopted and is sent to the President of the Republic for signature. If the Senate rejects the bill, the Chamber of Deputies votes on it once again. The law is adopted if it is approved by a simple majority in the Chamber of Deputies. If the Senate sends an amended bill back to the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house votes on the version approved by the Senate. The bill is adopted by a simple majority of the deputies. If the Chamber of Deputies does not approve the Senate's amended bill, it votes again on the original version of the bill sent to the Senate. The law is adopted if it is approved by a simple majority of all deputies (i.e., at least 101 votes). Electoral laws and certain other types of law must be approved both by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

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The President of the Republic also has a say in the final outcome. He may decide not to sign an approved bill within 15 days of it being sent to him, and may return it to the Chamber of Deputies for further discussion, stating his reasons. This is called the presidential veto. The Chamber of Deputies can overturn the presidential veto by a simple majority of its members without any amendments to the bill, in which case the law is passed. Otherwise it is not adopted.

Besides the President of the Republic, the President of the Chamber of Deputies and the Prime Minister also sign laws, though this is just a formality.

If the Chamber of Deputies is dissolved, it is up to the Senate to adopt essential legal measures in certain areas which would otherwise require the adoption of a law. Only the government can propose measures to the Senate and these must be approved by the Chamber of Deputies at its first meeting, otherwise they lapse.

The exceptions in this legislative process are constitutional laws. For these laws to be adopted, they must be approved by a three‑fifths majority of all deputies (a qualified majority) and a three-fifths majority of senators present, rather than by a simple majority (half) of all the Members of Parliament present, as required for ordinary laws. Constitutional laws can be amended or extended only by means of other constitutional laws (i.e. when the Chamber of Deputies is dissolved, the Senate cannot change them by legislation) and the President cannot veto them.

Ministries, other administrative agencies and self-governing regional bodies may issue detailed implementing rules (regulations and decrees) according to their field of activity.

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4. Validity of legislation

For a piece of legislation to enter into force, it has to be published. Constitutional laws, laws and other legal provisions (government regulations, ministerial orders etc.) are published in the Sbírka zakonů (Bulletin of laws), issued by the Ministry of the Interior. Legislation enters into force and becomes part of the Czech legal order on the day on which it is published in the Sbírka zakonů. For each act in the Bulletin, the date on which it takes effect is also given. This is the date on which everyone is legally obliged to abide by the legislation in question. If no date is stipulated, the legislation takes effect fifteen days after publication. In exceptional cases of urgent public necessity, the date of entry into effect may be brought forward, but may not precede the date of publication. Thus, the date on which a piece of legislation takes effect may be the same as the date of entry into force, but it may never take effect before it enters into force. Legislation adopted by the Senate is published in the Sbírka zakonů just like laws; ratified international agreements are published in the Sbírka mezinárodních smluv (Bulletin of international agreements). Provincial regulations are published in gazettes, municipal legislation is displayed on the official council noticeboard for 15 days and then published in the usual way.

Where national laws or specific provisions of laws conflict with the constitutional order or where other legal instruments or provisions of such instruments conflict with the constitutional order or another law, the Constitutional Court decides whether they should be annulled.

« Legal order - General information | Czech Republic - General information »

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Last update: 27-02-2007

 
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