Action against a decision of an administrative authority

The basic and traditional type of protection is the judicial review of an unlawful administrative decision. This type of action can be filed by anyone who claims that their rights have been infringed by a decision of an administrative authority, be it directly by the decision itself or in the course of the administrative procedure before the issuance of the decision. The petitioner seeks the annulment of the challenged decision. If the administrative authority imposed a penalty for an administrative delict, the petitioner might also seek reduction of the penalty or its annulment.

One of the essential admissibility criteria for the action is that the petitioner had exhausted all ordinary remedies in the proceeding before the administrative authority. Regarding the time limit for filing an action, in general, it must be filed within two months of the notification in writing of the final decision by the administrative authority.

The scope of judicial review of administrative decisions is determined by the general positive clause in favour of such review, which states that unless expressly excluded by law, all administrative decisions are subject to judicial review. The Code of Administrative Justice provides such jurisdictional exclusions, typically all decisions of a procedural character (e.g. decisions of provisional nature, decisions which only regulate the course of a procedure before the administrative authority). Other exclusions are contained special laws (e.g. the review of decisions on voluntary sickness insurance contributions). It should be stressed again that these are exceptions to the general rule in favour of judicial review.

The most important exception to administrative courts' jurisdiction to engage in judicial review applies in cases in which the administrative authority decided issues or disputes arising under private law. Typical example of such decision by an administrative authority in the area of private law is a decision taken by the Czech Telecommunications Office concerning the disputed amount of telecommunication fees; this, in fact, involves the payment for a private service provided by the telecom operator to an individual. If administrative authorities are, in exceptional cases, called upon to decide private law disputes, it is because of their technical expertise in the field (here, for instance, the ability to review telecom bills).

However, such a dispute is of a private law nature. Thus, there is no reason to assign the review of these cases to administrative courts, as there is no public law issue at stake, and the decision, if challenged, can be reviewed by civil courts. A special type of procedure for this purpose is laid down in section 244 and following of the act no. 99/1963 Coll., the Code of Civil Justice.

An action for the judicial review of unlawful acts does not have an automatic suspensive effect. However, the petitioner may request the suspension of the challenged act, provided that the legal consequences of the decision would result in irreparable damage to the petitioner. If the suspension is granted, the execution of the challenged decision is stayed.

The action must be brought before the competent court. In those cases, regional courts are the competent courts of the first instance. The regional court, which is the proper venue for a particular action, is determined according to the seat of the defendant administrative authority; the action must be brought in the judicial district in which is located the administrative authority which decided in the first instance (since 1st January 2012) in the administrative procedure.

There might also be other participants in a proceeding before an administrative court, namely natural or legal persons, who, similarly to the petitioner, have been affected in their rights by the decision. These may also be other persons who would be directly affected by the annulment of the challenged decision (e.g. the holder of a construction permit, if the issuance of the permit is challenged by the owner of the neighbouring plot of land).

The petitioner does not need to be legally represented before administrative courts of the first instance (i.e. regional courts). However, the situation is different in proceedings before the Supreme Administrative Court, where representation by legal counsel (attorney) is mandatory. It would nonetheless be advisable for a petitioner before an administrative court of the first instance to seek qualified legal advice as well.

Although proceedings before administrative courts are informal, the correct and timely formulation of the grounds for an action is essential. Due to the strict principle of the "concentration of proceedings" (meaning that the petitioner is obliged to submit all relevant evidence before the court of the first instance and that later submissions will be disregarded), mistakes and omissions, committed at the first instance due to ignorance, cannot often be corrected on appeal.

In exercising their judicial review function, administrative courts focus mainly on questions of law. However, in contrast to the pre-2003 judicial review system, they are now entitled to collect evidence of facts present at the time when the administrative authority made its decision. Errors made by administrative authorities in marshalling the relevant evidence, which under the previous system necessarily led (sometimes repeatedly) to the annulment of the challenged decision, may now be partially corrected by presenting evidence before the administrative court.

The court renders final decision on the merits in a judgment. The court can either dismiss the action and uphold the administrative decision, or annul the decision and send the case back to the administrative authority for a fresh assessment. When deciding the case anew, the administrative authority is bound by the proposition of law expressed by the court. If a penalty for an administrative delict is challenged, the court may also reduce the penalty or waive it altogether. In cases where the court does not decide on the merits, it issues a resolution (e.g. refusing to hear the action, discontinuing the proceedings, etc.).

A special way of terminating proceedings before administrative courts is the newly established possibility of the "satisfaction of the petitioner". It enables the administrative authority, which had supposedly erred in its assessment, to rectify its error in the course of proceedings before administrative courts. Until the court issues its decision, the defendant (i. e. the administrative authority) is entitled to take a new decision or measure that would satisfy the petitioner. In such case, the court, having heard the petitioner's statement, will discontinue proceedings.