On June 12, the Supreme Court held a discussion between the judiciary and state policy makers on four issues selected for discussion by the working group for assessing the length of court proceedings. These are: the promotion of use of videoconferencing, the possibilities for improving the schedule of courts, lawyers and prosecutors, the limitation of the duration of court deliberations and the application of procedural sanctions.

Taking into account the amendments to the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Law adopted by the Saeima (parliament) on June 11 also regarding the participation of defenders in court hearings, the possibility to restrict court deliberations, as well as regarding the duties of witnesses, the discussion actually took place on two issues.

Having discussed the use of videoconferencing and other technological solutions in criminal proceedings, the participants of the discussion concluded that amendments to the regulatory framework are not necessary. Videoconferencing is a tool for achieving the aims of criminal proceedings when the interests of criminal proceedings so require, but it must not be an end in itself. The participants in the discussion unanimously acknowledged the need to invest in the technical equipment of videoconferencing, the need for all institutions to agree on a single platform for videoconferencing, as well as the need to ensure data security and respect for the rights of the parties. Along with the provision of appropriate infrastructure, staff training regarding its application is also required. When discussing current practices and solutions provided by technology, the procedure for verifying a person's identity during legal proceedings has also been updated.

The second part of the discussion was devoted to the amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law adopted by the Saeima (parliament) on June 11. Although certain amendments were recognized as necessary, in general the work of the legislator was described as ensuring development of instructions or the incorporation of declarative provisions into the law. The recommendation of the working group was to assess the impact of these amendments to the law on criminal proceedings in due course – it would also be an assessment of how the quality of legislation affects and solves the problem of the length of proceedings.

The participants in the discussion agreed that the initial stage of the proceedings, in which the various requests are filed and decided, would be the stage of the proceedings at which possible solutions for optimizing the proceedings are sought. For example, making requests immediately after reviewing the criminal case file or making requests within a certain time after the case has been sent to court. A possible additional solution would be deciding a part of such requests without holding a court hearing or by holding a preparatory court hearing to decide such requests directly.

What regards the course of the court proceedings, the suggestion of those present was to supplement the training of judges with the conduct of appropriate practical proceedings.

Finally, the role of judicial dialogue in ensuring a fair trial is noted, which means both respect for existing case law and its dynamic adaptation to changing circumstances.

Representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Council of Sworn Advocates and the Prosecutor General's Office, judges, senators and Latvia's representative in international human rights institutions participated in the discussion in the Supreme Court. The discussion took place in order to prepare the opinion of the working group for the Judicial Council.

By the decision of 10 February, the Judicial Council called on the Supreme Court to set up a working group to assess the factors influencing the length of civil, criminal and administrative proceedings, including discussions and the hearing of experts.

 

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