22 May, 2022
Independence without accountability is arbitrariness, while accountability without independence is nonsense; these two elements must be present simultaneously – the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Chair of the Judicial Council Aigars Strupišs emphasized at the Latvian Judges Conference, when speaking about the independence and responsibility of the judiciary in the interests of a democratic society.
First of all, the Chief Justice emphasized the special role of a judge as an official of a constitutional body in upholding the guarantees of the Constitution. The public understands the special role of the courts, it also understands the need for an independent court and already trusts the courts more than the legislature and the executive. However, as Aigars Strupišs pointed out, the independence of the court is not enough to maintain this public understanding and build public confidence in the judiciary. Accountability is also absolutely necessary. He informed about the work of the Judicial Council carried out in this direction, primarily by strengthening the Judicial Council as a body representing the judiciary.
In order to claim the independence of the judiciary, at the same time a constitutional system of liability within the judiciary itself must be ensured, therefore, as Aigars Strupišs pointed out, “there is no other way than to activate and strengthen the self-government of judges in order to ensure quality control of the qualifications of judges, the observance of ethics and sanctions for disciplinary violations. And it is necessary to understand that the self-government of judges is not a labour union whose sole function is to defend its own members, but which protects the independence and quality of the judiciary. If we do not do this, others will try to do it. Of course, the self-government must protect and strengthen the independence of the judiciary and of a judge, but it also has a quality assurance function”.
Moreover, Aigars Strupišs pointed out several counter-arguments faced by the judiciary regarding the strengthening of its independence. One of them is the factor of the chairperson of the Judicial Council. In Latvia, the Chairperson of the Judicial Council is also the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the counter-argument is that the functioning of an independent judiciary depends on the personality of one person, namely the Chair of the Judicial Council. Aigars Strupišs had two answers to that. Firstly, the Judicial Council is a collegial and representative body (partly elected by the judges) and needs to be strengthened as such. It should not be as it is now, when the issues of the judiciary are being discussed between the chairpersons of individual courts and the Ministry of Justice, which clearly provides much less transparency than the operation of an open, public, collegial body. Secondly, the management of the judiciary must be designed in such a way that it does not become dependent on the activity, inactivity or peculiarities of one person. A collegial body in such a situation is much better than a one-man leadership of the minister. Aigars Strupišs also called for consideration to be given to changing the procedure for approving the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in order to rule out the possibility of candidates submissive to ruling coalition to become the leadership of the Supreme Court and thus the Judicial Council. At present, the Parliament approves the candidate for the position of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court nominated by the Plenary Session of the Supreme Court.
Another argument is that the judiciary is unable to cope with budget management. Aigars Strupišs posed a counter-question – if the Court Administration, which is currently subordinated to the Ministry of Justice, is dealing with it, why will it not deal with it, being subordinated to the Judicial Council? In addition, both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, which are already drawing up and managing their own budgets, are dealing with it. "The State Audit Office has never made any remarks to the Supreme Court, because the administration of the Supreme Court is very professional. It is not a question of subordination, but of professionalism. It is nonsense to simply imply that the courts will be irresponsible in using the budget,” Aigars Strupišs pointed out.
Concluding his report, the leader of the Supreme Court and the Judicial Council made it clear that the Latvian judicial system was ready for full emancipation. He also pointed out that the judiciary must be completely free from the influence of the executive branch. “It is really difficult for me to imagine what the arguments might be for the opinion that the judicial system must remain under the organizational subordination of the executive power if the mechanisms of responsibility and quality control of the judiciary in accordance with the Constitution are implemented. I mean, concrete, not hypothetical, arguments. Because I do not accept the argument that the judiciary is worse than other branches of power."
The Judicial Council, as an institution that participates in the development of judicial policy in accordance with the law, has taken a solid course towards independence. Aigars Strupišs called on everyone to keep in mind that the judiciary is not the only branch of power that needs special supervision; the division of power means mutual balance and control of all branches of state power within the framework of the Constitution. In turn, Aigars Strupišs called for judges to do everything to build trust in the judiciary yet even more – to build it through professional work, clear judgments, respectful attitude towards people.
- Address by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Chair of the Judicial Council Aigars Strupišs at the opening of the Judges Conference and the keynote address (in full, including what was not said at the Conference due to time constraints), see here (in Latvian)
- Video recording of the Judges Conference, see here (in Latvian)
- More about the Judges Conference, see here (in Latvian)
Information prepared by
Rasma Zvejniece, the Head of the Division of Communication of the Supreme Court
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