27 January, 2021
Last year, by harmonizing two work priorities – the development of stable case-law and ensuring a fast cassation procedure, the Department of Criminal Cases of the Senate was seeking solutions to spend as much time as possible on in-depth research of legal issues that are important for formation of case-law. Emphasis is placed on the previously seldom applied operating model, which should ensure formation of more stable case-law and more intensive use of the findings of the Senate in court rulings.
At the Annual Repot Plenary Session of the Supreme Court on January 22, the Chair of the Department Anita Polakova stated that clarity and stability of case-law should reduce the number of erroneous decisions in lower courts, and consequently, the arrival of those cases in the Senate, but in the event a case would reach the Senate, it would be possible to refuse the institution of cassation proceedings on the basis of stable case-law on a particular point of law. We have highlighted such a solution in the activities of the Department.
The essence of the model is that when examining cases, senators identify those in which the legal issue in question is particularly relevant and referable to a large number of criminal proceedings. This is being explored in as much detail as possible. When making a decision in a particular case, the findings are set out or the opinions already made on the particular issue in previous decisions are concentrated. The Department then strives to make these findings known to as many judges as possible. That is done through publications, lectures, discussions. Finally, if during the examination of the issue the Department finds the need to make amendments or additions to a law, then it develops proposals and submits them to the legislator.
In 2020, such a model was already implemented by the Department of Criminal Cases regarding the issue of compensation for damage to the victim in road traffic accidents. Taking into account the findings of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the Senate amended its previous case-law and recognized that in criminal proceedings such damages may be recovered from the offender which shall not be indemnified in accordance with the Compulsory Civil Liability Insurance of Owners of Motor Vehicles Law or which exceed the limit of liability of the insurer specified in this Law and regulatory enactments issued in accordance therewith. In other cases, compensation for damages is not applicable in criminal proceedings. The change of case-law on this point of law affected all criminal proceedings arising from infringements of road traffic regulations and vehicle operating rules.
Another legal issue highlighted by the Department was related to settlement procedures. Examining cases of this category under the cassation procedure, it has been concluded that the established regulation is incomplete, which leads to the annulment of the settlements approved in court. Based on the case-law of the Senate, amendments have been made to the law, specifying the content of the protocol of the settlement. By aligning the regulatory framework, the possibility of errors in the settlement procedures has been reduced and guidelines for reviewing this category of cases have been relatively given.
What has been accomplished has given the Department a basis for preparing a draft and requesting to consider amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law on appeal of first instance court rulings in regional courts instead of in the cassation court, as it is currently established. In the event of a positive solution, the number of cases received by the Department would decrease by an average of 60 cases per year. However, the goal is not simply to reduce the number of cases in the Department, but to give senators time to work on formation of stable case-law.
At the same time with the amendments on the procedure of appealing the decisions made under the settlement procedure to the appellate court, the Department of Criminal Cases has developed a second draft amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law, which provides for taking on additional responsibilities. Namely, to enable the cassation court to hear cases in criminal proceedings in an expanded composition and senators to express dissenting opinions, as is the case in civil proceedings and administrative proceedings. This would strengthen the role of the Department of Criminal Cases of the Senate as a cassation court and create an additional mechanism for stabilizing case-law. "Both projects have been submitted at the same time, because in case of taking on additional responsibilities the time has also be freed to fulfil these responsibilities," said the Chair of the Department.
Anita Polakova points out that the complex issue resolution model chosen by the Department of Criminal Cases is very time-consuming, requires great resources and can slow down the speed of circulation of cases in the Department as a whole, but produces a long-term result. It cannot cover all the issues to be addressed, so those having a wider impact and relevance need to be identified.
For 2021, the Department has identified two groups of legal issues to be solved, namely issues related to tax evasion and evasion of payment of similar payments and to money laundering. The Department also plans to explain in depth to judges the application of Sections 50 and 51 of the Criminal Law, which year after year is the most common ground for annulment of rulings in the part regarding sentence.
Information prepared by
Rasma Zvejniece, the Head of the Division of Communication of the Supreme Court
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