The role of judicial power in promotion and maintenance of the rule of law – this was the theme of the International Judicial Conference which was organized on July 2 – 3 by the US Embassy in cooperation with the Supreme Court of the Republic of Latvia and the Ministry of Justice.

At the opening of the conference, the US Ambassador in Latvia Katherine Todd Bailey specially noted the contribution of the State President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga in determination of the standards of the rule of law, as well as in the development of freedom and democracy. It was what the President said in USA last year that incited organization of a conference of such a high level in Latvia, and upon the invitation of Vike-Freiberga, the US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito participated in the conference as an honorary guest.

Vike-Freiberga, addressing the judges in the last days of her presidency acknowledged with satisfaction that during the eight years of her presidency, the Latvian judiciary made progress during transition from the authoritarian judiciary to a democratic one and joining the European legal community. She called the judges not only to ensure the interior security of the country in future and to see to their education, but to take case of the honour and fame of the profession of a judge and the general improvement of the judiciary, too.

The President especially noted the good cooperation with the Supreme Court and expressed gratitude to the Chief Justice Andris Gulans who has always been open to in-depth talks and patient discussions regarding the situation and problems on the Latvian judiciary, and has always been ready to further activation of those issues regarding which the President was concerned. The President admitted that she has learned much from these discussions, too.

For example, regarding judgments in cases related to drugs. The President, having studied the judgments in these cases, concluded that either suspended sentences or short-term imprisonments are applied, but after the court practice of the Supreme Court was reviewed it was achieved that the law stipulates difference between the punishments imposed on distributors and users of drugs. When deciding on amnesty, the President had to conclude that the court practice is incomprehensibly various regarding the application of measures of punishment imposed, for example, for murder. Previously, imprisonment of 15 years was applied for murder, but more recent judgments determine imprisonment for only 5 – 6 years. The President finds this a huge difference therefore she asks to think about the issues of commensurability of sentence. The President compared that in America, the position of a judge is the crown of the lawyer’s career. But in Latvia, taking into account its historical situation, the experienced judges were experienced in the authoritarian state system, and retraining to another, democratic society and judiciary was not easy. The reform of judiciary is a hard way, and the President called to think about re-certification of judges every 10 years. Vike-Freiberga stressed the further lifelong training of judges what is a hard educational process, and the necessity to cooperate with foreign specialists. In this field, as well, the Supreme Court was mentioned as a positive example. Besides, the President noted that it is essential that the court judgments are accessible in public and, when published in Internet, they will help to educate the society and to develop case-law. Approval regarding these issues was also addressed to the Supreme Court.

In her speech, Vike-Freiberga touched also the issue of corruption of courts. The President mentioned that one of the possible causes for grounds of corruption was lack of premises, due to what one has to wait for trials in long lines for 2 – 3 years. The President also mentioned the distribution of cases among the judges the transparency of which is essential to avoid creating corruptive chains among judges, prosecutors and also police officers.

During her presidency, Vike-Freiberga has accepted oath from 213 judges. The President indicated that the judges have to be aware that along with giving the oath and receiving the magnificent symbol of the position – the chain of the judge – they undertake a high and hard responsibility towards the people and the law. A just court system ensures peace of the citizens and creates environment for attraction of investments, as well. “Let the goal of the judges in Latvia be to strengthen the confidence in the people’s mind that we develop a fair country where there is the same law for everyone. I call the judges to see to it through their personal work and to follow the work of the others, as well. The honour and fame of the judges is created by the judges themselves, nobody else. I wish the Latvian judges courage and strength to continue their individual growth, to see to the general growth of our country,” wished the State President Vike-Freiberga at the end of her speech.

More than 200 judges and representatives of other professions of the judiciary, law specialists, academic staff and state officials from seven different countries attended the international judicial conference and participated in discussions on independence of judiciary, ethics and transparency, relations with the mass media and legislative power, and other issues.

The conference was also attended by foreign experts – the US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, US Academicians Jeffry Hazzard and Ronald Rotunda, as well as high-level representatives from Moldova, Georgia, Romania, Estonia and Lithuania.

Information prepared by Division of Communications of the Supreme Court

Author: Rasma Zvejniece, Head of the Division of Communications of the Supreme Court

E-mail: rasma.zvejniece@at.gov.lv, telephone: 7020396, 28652211