22 February, 2007
The international conference “Judges and Attorneys in interaction of professions” organized together with the American Bar Association which “shook up” those who work in the court system to think about ethical issues; the project launched in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice of Spain on increase of capacity of the Supreme Court; the nomination of the judge of the Constitutional Court – these three issues were mentioned as the positive “shake” of the previous year by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Andris Gulans on February 22, meeting the reporters at the traditional press conference prior to the annual report of the Supreme Court.
However, A. Gulans named the worst events which left negative impression on the judiciary in general – detention of judges of the Vidzemes District Court, sanctioning the tapping of phone calls of Jaunalksne, and the signals of the European Court of Human Rights regarding the long terms of court proceedings in Latvia.
“However, the Supreme Court is conservative enough, a politically and legally independent institution, therefore it was not affected by special shakes”, concluded the Chief Justice. He offered the reporters a brief insight in the work of the Supreme Court in the previous year according to the tasks it has to fulfill.
The main task of the Supreme Court – review of appellate and cassation cases. From the offered handouts, the reporters could see how considerably the number of cases filed with the Supreme Court has grown. In 2006, the biggest number of cases to the present moment – 4518 was received, the number of the reviewed cases has also been the highest – 4311. A. Gulans finds this number alarming because in general the number of cases to be heard in the courts does not grow so rapidly as the number of the appealed cases. In his opinion, a serious analysis must be done as to why this happens – whether due to the increased number of judges in the regional courts, or due to the fact the people more skillfully exercise their rights, or the professionalism of judges of the first and second instance courts has to be evaluated, or there are problems in the legislation.
In six years, the number of cases heard in the Supreme Court has increased by 85%, but the number of judges – by 18%. The number of assistants to the judges has grown – now there are 35 of them, 11 of who started to work last year. However, the number of judges and assistants does not correspond to the work load of the Supreme Court. The main problem for solving this issue – lack of premises. The second basic function of the Supreme Court is the development of a uniform court practice. In a year’s time, the Division of Case-law makes about 10 summaries of court practice. Last year these studies for the first time were discussed and accepted in the joint sessions of judges of the Supreme Court. “This is a signal for the judges of all levels that such court practice is accepted and may be used”, A. Gulans said. Besides, the Division of Case-law selects the best adjudications and enters them into the unified database of the Judicial informative system. “These are adjudications – precedents which to study and to follow. Data testify that last year these adjudications were viewed by judges for more than 8300 times, this proves how valuable they are”, the Chief Justice concluded.
The third function of the Supreme Court is to authorize operational activities stated in the law. Although the Chief Justice could not provide extensive information in this field as it is classified, the interest of the reporters was great. They wanted to know whether the task of a judge when giving permission is not to verify the correspondence of the telephone numbers, whether the precedent of Jaunalksne’s telephone calls will cause re-evaluation of responsibility of judges. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court admitted that these events are assessed and conclusions are drawn, unfortunately, trust in honest work of operational services is also re-evaluated.
The fourth field of activities of the Supreme Court is review of complaints. Last year, the Supreme Court received 327 applications and complaints on judges of courts of different instances, among them also the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, but in total 2952 complaints were received. At least 80% of the complaints may be evaluated as ungrounded, A. Gulans admitted. However, replies to all of them must be given on the merits and in the terms set by the law. In 20% of the complaints the stated facts proved true and lower instance courts had even to change the previously adopted adjudications, disciplinary cases have also been initiated.
This year, for review of complaints, a separate division of complaints will be created in the Supreme Court. When asked whether he finds it possible that court proceedings and adjudications could be “bought”, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court admitted that he has no grounds to consider that this could be so. As well, there are no facts which would testify that there have been attempts to affect the political neutrality of the courts. However, in separate cases there “are grounds to think that some judges are indecent”, he said. The Judicial Disciplinary Panel heard 17 disciplinary cases in 2006, out of which several were initiated by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
A survey on the administrative management of the Supreme Court was presented to the reporters by the Head of the Administration Anita Kehre. The priority of the last year in the Supreme Court was the improvement of personnel policy, development of finance administration and international cooperation. Improvement of professional skills of judges and court employees and international cooperation was one of the priorities supported in the budget of 2006. A group of qualified assistants to judges have been formed, staff fluctuation has decreased, the plan of further training of judges and employees has been implemented.
Information prepared by Division of Communications of the Supreme Court
Author: Rasma Zvejniece, Head of the Division of Communications of the Supreme Court
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