On Thursday, the 13th of June, agenda of the Saeima (the Parliament) includes amendments of wide scope to the law “On Judicial Power” being advanced for third reading, which will significantly change Latvian judicial system. Misleading information was announced in public space that these amendments have been prepared in close cooperation with the Board of Justice. The Legal Affairs Committee of the Saeima has taken into account only three of twenty-four proposals expressed by the Board of Justice, when evaluating the abovementioned draft law.

The Board of Justice supported reform of judicial system initiated by the legislator – the Saeima, but it expressed objections and proposals about several essential amendments to the law and mechanisms of implementation of those. Part of proposals of the Board of Justice, which is the most essential by means of both quantity and content, have been set aside by the Saeima within process of discussion and advancement of the draft law before, thus creating an impression that opinion of the Board of Justice was listened to only formally.   

One of objections of the Board of Justice was against limitation of term of office of chairpersons of courts of all levels, which is envisaged in the draft law, stating that a person may not be a chairperson of a court more than two five-years’ terms of office in turns. The Board of Justice believes that implementation of such limitation will not justify itself in long term, moreover, implementation of that may be especially problematic for small courts.

Another important objection of the Board of Justice was against mechanism, how so called “clear” three-level court system has been implemented and structure of the Supreme Court has been reformed.  In opinion of the Board of Justice, such important changes as liquidation of the Court Chambers and rearrangement of functions and organisation of work of the Supreme Court related to it should be established in basic norms of the law rather than in Transitional Provisions, as it has been envisaged in the draft law now.  The Board of Justice and the Supreme Court believe that amendments to the law, which are related to the Supreme Court, should be adopted simultaneously with liquidation of the Court Chambers – liquidation of the Chamber of Criminal Cases on December 31, 2014, and liquidation of the Chamber of Civil Cases on the December 31, 2016, rather than establishing in the law a structure, which will not actually operate for several years.  

In relation to the Supreme Court, the Board of Justice had one more fundamental proposal – to preserve historical name of the Senate acquired by the cassation instance both in first period of independent state of Latvia between 1918 and 1940, and during 20 years in court system of the restored Republic of Latvia, in new structure.

The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia has repeatedly indicated that it is obligation of the Saeima to evaluate proposals and opinion of the Board of Justice about draft laws, which influence operation of judiciary, as thoroughly as possible. When implementing reforms of court system, interaction between legislator and the Board of Justice should occur in all stages of the reform. In democratic state, principle of division of powers not only divides branches of power, but also includes requirement for mutual cooperation of those.

Unfortunately, previously opinion of the Board of Justice upon issues, which are important for judicial system, had been very often listened to by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Saeima only formally. Such attitude doesn’t purport about balanced and respectful relations between legislator and judiciary and wish to listen to and to take into account opinion, which is different.  

One should hope that the Saeima, when reviewing draft law of amendments to the law “On Judicial Power” will take conclusions of the Constitutional Court into account and, when adopting in final reading amendments to the law, which are of such importance for Latvian court system, will go into details and will take opinion of the Board of Justice upon those into account.

 

Information prepared by

Rasma Zvejniece, the Head of the Division of Communication of the Supreme Court

E-mail: rasma.zvejniece@at.gov.lv, telephone: 67020396, 28652211