Court proceedings in the Supreme Court

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The right to a fair trial is one of the most important person’s fundamental rights. The concept of a fair trail basically contains two aspects: the court as an independent and impartial institution of judicial power and a procedure, which ensures fair and impartial adjudication of the case.

A three-instance court system has been established in Latvia – cases are heard at the court of first instance, court of appellate instance and cassation instance (in some cases the legislator has defined exemptions to this procedure).

 

Basic principles of hearing cases

The Court hears cases in accordance with external laws and regulations, regulations of international law and the European Union, as well as with general principles of law.

Basic principles of hearing cases are defined in the law “On Judicial Power”, and in procedural law – the Civil Procedure Law, the Criminal Procedure Law, and the Administrative Procedure Law. Depending on the type of procedure, the principles of hearing may differ; for instance, one of the basic principles of civil procedure is the principle of adversarial proceedings, where the parties exercise their procedural rights adversarially, and the court decides the case depending on the evidence and arguments submitted by the parties. In turn, administrative procedure is based on the principle of impartial investigation, which – unlike the principle of adversarial proceedings – requires active participation of the court in clarifying the circumstances and collecting evidence. In criminal procedure the prosecution on behalf of the state is upheld by the prosecutor, and the criminal procedure is conducted for the public good, irrespectively of the person’s, who had been inflicted damage, wish, abiding by the presumption of innocence, i.e., no person can be considered guilty until proven being guilty of a crime according to the procedure stipulated by the law.

Some common basic principles exist for hearing cases within civil procedure, criminal procedure, and administrative procedure, with “the principle of all principles” being that the court ensures an individual’s right to a fair trial.

  • The principle of fairness. The court must hear the case fairly – in each specific case the principle of fairness must be abided by. The judgement of the court must be fair. The fair trial of a case is closely linked with a substantiated decision, conforming to the legal norms.
  • The principle of impartiality and neutrality. The Court, when hearing a concrete case, is free from any personal opinions and prejudices against parties of the case. The court is only interested in correct application of the law.
  • The principle of independence. The judges are independent and subject only to law.
  • The principle of procedural equity.The parties in the proceedings have equal rights. The court must ensure that parties have an equal opportunity to use their procedural rights to defend their interests.   

Judicial proceedings in the Supreme Court are conducted in the official language of the State. For participants, taking part in criminal cases, who do not understand the language used in the court proceedings, the court shall ensure that they may familiarize themselves with case materials and take part in court proceedings with the help of an interpreter, as well as to address the court during the hearing in the language that the person is proficient in. The same rules also apply for applicants - natural persons – who participate in administrative cases. Meanwhile, this does not apply for participants in civil cases. If they do not know the language of the state, they have to ensure the assistance of an interpreter by themselves. The state will provide an interpreter only to those natural persons, who receive state’s provided legal aid or are exempted from legal costs.

Court adjudges cases in accordance with external regulations, international legal norms and legal norms of the European Union, as well as in accordance with general principles of law. 

Access to court rulings and case file materials

The access to court information is ensured by the principle of openness in hearing cases. All interested persons have the right to participate in an open court hearing in the capacity of an observer, and to get familiarised with ruling adopted in an open court hearing.

A court ruling adopted at an open court session, which has been presented as a separate procedural document, is publicly accessible information from the moment it is pronounced, but if the ruling is not pronounced – from the moment of its delivery. A court ruling in a case heard in closed or partly closed court session is restricted-access information, except for the introductory and operative parts of a ruling.

All judgements adopted in open court sessions, after they come into force, are published on the web site www.tiesas.lv. Decisions of the Department of Criminal Cases are also published, but rulings of the Department of Civil Cases and the Department of Administrative Cases – upon discretion of the court.  However, judgements and decisions of all departments, which include case-law conclusions, are published on the web site of the Supreme Court  www.at.gov.lv.

An individual may familiarise himself or herself with rulings of the Supreme Court in the Chancery of the Court as well. The Head of the Chancery may determine time, when the person may get familiarised with rulings, and to refuse or discontinue a visit of the person, so that the work of the Chancery is not disturbed.   

When a ruling is published or issued, the part of information disclosing the identity of a natural person is covered.

The materials in a case heard in open court have the status of restricted-access information, but only from the moment when the final decision of a court comes into effect. Until then, the case materials are available only to those enjoying rights under procedural laws.

The materials in a case heard in closed session are available only to those enjoying rights under procedural law and the law “On Judicial Power”. The materials in a case heard in closed session become restricted-access information for 20 years after the final court ruling comes into effect. The respective period is 75 years in cases determining the parentage of a child, adoption, annulment or dissolution of marriage, and declaring a person incapable of acting because of mental illness or other health disorders. Materials in a case heard in closed session concerning protection of official secrets become restricted-access information on expiry of the term of confidentiality of information in the case.

See more information on procedure of  release of information of the Supreme Court here