The Council for the Judiciary has sent a letter to Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, Chair of Legal Affairs Committee of the Saeima Juta Strike and Chair of Judicial Policy Subcommittee of the Legal Affairs Committee Inese Libina-Egnere announcing the decision of the Council for the Judiciary not to support formation of the Economic Court and arguments for such a point of view.

On June 3, the Council for the Judiciary assessed the conceptual report “On Establishing the Economic Court” drawn up by the Ministry of Justice and acknowledged that the necessary justification for setting up such a court is not only unrelated to, but is contradictory to results of judicial reforms. Three major judicial reforms aimed at improving the quality of the judiciary have already been undertaken in recent years, namely, the transition to a pure three-instance judicial system, the integration of land registry judges into courts of general jurisdiction, and territorial reform of courts by merging district (city) courts with the aim of creating larger courts and thus creating the conditions for an in-depth specialization of judges.

The Council for the Judiciary recognizes the need for in-depth specialization of judges in adjudication of complex cases, which is possible within the existing judicial system. The concept only gives an abstract idea that specialization would be able to speed up court proceedings and increase the quality of rulings. The new concept of specialized court contradicts and creates inconsistency with the model of specialization of judges and some existing courts introduced by the previous judicial reform. The Council for the Judiciary notes that the lack of continuity in planning the development of the judicial system does not contribute to its stability and development. The Ministry of Justice is called on to refrain from further radical, controversial reforms.

The Council for the Judiciary notes that the concept does not include an adequate analysis of the causes or consequences of the problems.

The issue of creating a specialized court requires a serious and detailed analysis of the causes that are creating the problems to be solved. If a problem is lengthy criminal proceedings related to economic crimes and corruption, then the causes of this problem must be identified first. The Council for the Judiciary mentions a number of possible causes for the problems identified in the concept, such as the quality of the investigation of cases, the quality of the charge and the ineffective regulation of the Criminal Procedure Law. In civil cases, however, the causes are poor quality claims, poor quality of work of lawyers or judges.

In the view of the Council for the Judiciary, the new court would not function properly. Given the workload of judges and the number of cases received so far, as well as the specific nature of the criminal proceedings, such a court could operate in Latvia if there were not seven judges in such court, as the concept suggests, but considerably more. If the basic problems of the criminal procedure that adversely affect the speed of the adjudication of cases are not resolved, the work of the seven-judge court will in fact be paralyzed with 3-4 criminal cases, and as a result the timely adjudication of the rest of the cases, including civil cases, would be impossible. Whereas, by eliminating these criminal procedural issues, which is relatively easy to do with appropriate amendments to the law, the speed of adjudication of the so-called "serious" cases can be significantly increased within the existing judicial system.

The Council for the Judiciary also draws attention to the potential risk of corruption perception index growth and the risk of corruption if speaking about such a specialized court. This is what the judiciary faced in 2018, when issues about the insolvency proceedings in the courts were brought to the fore by the press. It was alleged that all insolvency cases were heard by the same judges of the first instance court. This was found to be an unavoidable side-effect of judges’ specialization, as at each district (city) court cases were handled by 2-4 judges specialized in insolvency cases. In the case of a specialized court, the situation would be identical, as seeing a small, limited number of judges adjudicating one type of cases will inevitably lead to public suspicion of possible corruption. Such a closed, small circle of judges is also a factor contributing to corruption.

The establishment of a single specialized court would also make access to justice in the country more difficult, creating problems of jurisdiction and separation of cases, for example, in the case of aggregation of criminal offences, where the specialized court has jurisdiction over only one of several related criminal offenses or civil actions.

The Council for the Judiciary calls on the executive power and the legislature to seek other solutions for the efficient use of existing financial and human resources, pursuing the objectives of a professional, efficient judiciary, high quality judgments and the unification of case-law. In order to achieve these objectives, there has been an increased effort in recent years in programs for training judges and strengthening judges’ practical skills. It is important that these issues should not be restricted to specific categories of cases. As a socially responsible country, Latvia must ensure the rule of law in all matters.

 

Information prepared by

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

E-mail: rasma.zvejniece@at.gov.lv, telephone: +371 67020396, +371 28652211