4. 3. 2024

Czech Laws Officially Online

Czechia Finally in the 21st Century. Or Is It Really?

After almost eight years, the Act on the Collection of Laws and International Treaties, which was passed in 2016, is coming fully into force to take us one step further – towards an official and legally binding electronic database of laws. As it happens, however, the reality has been much more complicated and the law's effectiveness has had to be postponed several times. So what does the long-awaited result look like and was it worth the wait?

The so-called eSbírka system was first planned by the Ministry of the Interior in 2007 and the project amounted to CZK 719 million in total. The necessity of this collection is evidenced by the fact that there had been no official electronic database of legal regulations in the Czech Republic – only paper versions. The only way for the public to access legislation online was through unofficial databases run by legal enthusiasts or through commercial legal systems. In the meantime, similar systems have already started to operate in Germany, Austria or almost any other country in Europe.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, the eSbírka and eLegislativa systems, collectively referred to as eSeL, are intended to ensure the availability, clarity and comprehensibility of applicable law for every citizen. They should make the creation of regulations more transparent and efficient from the beginning of the legislative process. eSel will include about 44,600 legal regulations, all valid and invalid norms since 4 April 1945 and selected regulations since 1918. Content should be gradually added over the next year.

The electronic collection was to undergo a year-long testing before launching. Initially, the system was to be tested, for example, by representatives of law schools or legal professions. However, this test phase did not eventually happen; only persons from the Union of Towns and Municipalities, regional authorities, the Police Presidium or selected departments of the Ministry of the Interior were given access to the test version. According to the Ministry, the reason was cybersecurity. However, no further postponement was possible, as the Czech Republic would have lost European funding and the cost of the project would have risen to one billion. The fact that the database has not undergone a thorough testing phase is unfortunately noticeable in its functioning.

The first faux pas shows when typing "eSbírka" into a search engine, the search engine does not find a link to the collection among the results. The ordinary citizen is therefore likely to give up trying to find the official texts of legal documents at this point. If, after a lengthy search, one finds the way to the collection, it may be surprising that it is not under the official state domain gov.cz. Even the way of logging in to the user account raises questions. It is not possible to use the so-called Citizen's identity, which is normally used for logging into other public administration portals.

The new eSbírka also seems to be incomplete, for example, the so-called “consolidation package”, one of the most important documents adopted last year, cannot be found there. Other laws from the last three months are also missing and should be added soon. Moreover, for example the very first paragraph of the Act on the Collection of Laws and International Treaties is out of date. However, the unofficial commercial legal systems already contain all the regulations in the updated version. In addition, the legally binding texts of the laws are only the PDFs of the "initial" version of the legal act as published in the Collection of Laws, without taking into account any amendments. The consolidated texts used in the system are therefore only of an informative nature. Change is likely to come with the launch of eLegislation later this year.

Unfortunately, after years of developing and an investment of three quarters of a billion, we have not received anything that the free unofficial systems cannot handle equally or better. The collection offers similar functions to commercial legal systems, but lacks, for example, the announced explanatory statements to laws or interpretative opinions.

To sum up, after several years of waiting and endless postponements, we got an unfinished and incomplete database that gives neither the citizen nor the lawyer any reason to prefer it to commercial systems. Or at least not yet.

By JUDr. Marie Zámečníková

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