Judges and prosecutors from Spain, Germany and Finland who visited the Supreme Court on September 12, in their discussion with the Chief Justice Andris Guļāns and the Administration manager Anita Kehre admitted that they are pleasantly surprised finding, during their visit what considerable changes have taken place in the court system in Latvia in such a short period after restoration of independence.
Jens Florstedt, a judge from Germany noted the similarity of the Latvian court system with the European and namely German court system on what the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court commented on the historical ties of Latvia with Europe and the assistance of the European countries and legal experts to the Latvian court system after the restoration of independence. Mr. Guļāns noted that Latvia did not have much time to create a new system therefore the experience of other countries was invaluable, and influence of German lawyers is essential. What other countries did during centuries, has been done in Latvia in less than two decades. However, as said the Chief Justice, thus many shortcomings and problems are inevitable which are to be settled with the new draft law on Judiciary.
The Spanish colleagues had reviewed the new draft law and expressed incomprehension on the vague and just consultative role attributed to the Legal Council in it. The competence of the Legal Council of Spain includes selection of judges and appointment in the position, issues of qualification and carrier, as well as disciplinary responsibility of judges. The Council is granted special powers to arrange surveillance and controls. There are no representatives of the executive power in the Legal Council of Spain, although the Ministry of Justice still bears responsibility for providing courts material resources and necessary preparation of draft laws.
The judges from Spain, Germany and Finland asked the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on independence of the Latvian courts from the legislative and executive powers. Guļāns does not see any special problems regarding this, however, he admitted some “weak” issues which, indirectly, may affect judiciary. For example, through formation of budget or selection of judges what at this moment is done by the Ministry of Justice.
In his turn, Teijo Lehikoinen, a prosecutor from Finland was interested in how loyal to the idea of Latvia’s independence at that time were the judges of Latvia and how they could overcome the long-time influence of the soviet system. Guļāns that he, as well, started his career as a judge in a district court during the soviet period and therefore he knows that majority of judges of Latvia were not only loyal to the independent Latvia, but were also progressive builders of the court system of the independent Latvia. Those who due to their duties under soviet regime were connected with KGB, do not continue their work in the courts. Of courts, the judges who had worked in the soviet system had to master intensively new types of law, for example, property rights and human rights, and to change their thinking. Joining EU also requires professional improvement therefore, as admitted the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the experience of the European Court of Human Rights and other European courts is important for judges in Latvia.
The group of judges and prosecutors from the EU countries has come to Latvia for a two weeks training visit within the framework of the project of further education of judges funded by the European Commission. During the visit, the Latvian Judicial Training Center organized meetings with representatives from different institutions in the Supreme Court, Ministry of Justice, Court Administration, District, Regional, Constitutional Court, CPCB, Ombudsman’s office, Prosecutor’s office, Probation Service, as well as a visit to the prison.