Plenum of the Supreme Court evaluates the last year well, but expresses anxiety on normal functioning of court this year
14 March, 2009
The management of the Supreme Court: (from the left) the Chair of the Chamber of Criminal Cases Ervins Kuskis, the Chair of the Department of Criminal Cases of the Senate Pavels Gruzins, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ivars Bickovics, the Chair of the Chamber of Civil Cases Gunars Aigars, the Chair of the Department of Administrative Cases of the Senate Veronika Krumina, the Chair of the Department of Civil Cases of the Senate Valerijans Jonikans
Year 2008 was usual for the Supreme Court– the wheel of reviewing of court cases span quickly – 4445 cases were received, 3941 cases were reviewed, the number of cases pending in the end of the year was 2108. The situation is serious, but it is similar as in other countries of Europe – the tendency of increase of number of court cases has been observed everywhere.
The last year differed from other years with changes in a management of the court and in court of judges – the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was replaced, five judges finished their work in the court, and six new judges had begun to work in the Supreme Court. The Head of the Administration has changed also, but fluidity of employees of the court has decreased.
The last year differed also in means of financing – already in the end of the last year after two decreases of the budget the Supreme Court had been forced to pass, to a certain extent, to emergency regime. If it will be necessary to fulfil the requirement of the new government to reduce the budget for 20% more, the Supreme Court will not be able to carry out all functions provided to it by the law.
This was the result of the report of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ivars Bickovics during annual plenum, which has taken place on March, 13. The Chief Justice thanked all body of the court for good work and urged to keep good fellowship also in dramatic financial situation of this year, to understand the situation and to repose trust in a management and financial experts of the court who, probably, would be forced to accept decisions, that would be heavy and painful for judges and workers of the court.
“Financing cannot be cut down for 20% without serious consequences. At the Supreme Court the possibility of manoeuvres is insignificant – approximately 90% of the budget make wages, and 70 % of this amount are wages of judges,” the Chief Justice told. The formula of calculation of wages of judges is stated in the law, therefore it not so simply to change that. However, for employees of the court there are no such restrictions.
The Head of the Administration Sandra Lapina has informed that the budget of the Supreme Court for year 2009 was planned at a rate of 3,16 million lats, and after reduction financing of the court makes 2,7 million lats, and wages, including taxes, make 2,56 million lats within these means. For the goods and services there has been provided 204 000 lats, and for capital expenses to the Supreme Court financing is not provided at all this year. S. Lapina has stressed that staff of employees of the Supreme Court never was “puffed”, and before it because of shortage of premises there was no possibility to provide the quantity of judges necessary and confirmed by Saeima and employees of court. I. Bickovics has warned, if financing of the Supreme Court has been reduced even more, it will be necessary to think about measures that would brake work of the court, as non-paid days, staff reduction and reduction of load, and also decrease of salaries. “Everything that was possible to cut down without serious consequences, had been cut down,” the Chief Justice confirmed. The Supreme Court has already refused from staff vacancies and made other decreases, for example, financing for different services had been reduced.
I.Bickovics has admitted possibility that together with the State Office of Public Prosecutor will try to find support in the European bodies of Justice. The request after support means that at the present level the problem with financing is topical, the information on a situation in other countries that it was possible to use it as argument, for example, in conversation with the Ministry of Finance would be requested.
Judges will continue to judge fair court, but in queue on a judgment it will be necessary to wait longer
Nevertheless, despite possible reduction of salaries and load of work, judges are ready to continue to work, as they are elected for this post, - the Chair of the Department of Criminal Cases of the Senate Pavels Gruzins has confirmed on plenum.
After the end of the plenum, at press conference also the Chair of the Department of Civil Cases of the Senate Valerijans Jonikans has underlined, that reduction of financing can affect duration of reviewing of cases, but not the fair court, as judges swore to judge according to laws, under any circumstances. Consequences of reduction of financing for courts could be such that instead of present seven-eight months the person should expect for a verdict for a year, the Chair of the Department of Civil Cases of the Senate has noted.
In his turn, I. Bickovics in conversation with journalists has admitted that reduction of financing can threaten both with increase of risk of corruption in courts, and returning in the beginning of 90-ties, when persons arrested on criminal cases were forced to spend long time in prison without a court sentence because of load of courts, and as a result of it, Latvia, according to sentences of European Court of Human Rights already had to pay large compensations.
Problem of year 2008: an overload of judges and the great amount of cases pending
While analyzing results of work of last year, Chairs of departments of the Senate and chambers mainly had turned to the analysis and problems court cases.
The Department of Civil Cases of the Senate: 1055 cases were received, 826 cases reviewed, the amount of cases pending – 467.
In the Department of Civil Cases of the Senate last year also was the biggest amount of cases pending in the history of the Department – 467, that is, almost twice more than previous year. The Chair of the Department Valerijans Jonikans as the reason of it had mentioned problems of organisation: in year 2008 four senators finished to work in the Department, and with its full complement the Department had been completed only in the end of October.
The Department of Civil Cases of the Senate puts very considerable work in creation of judiciary practice, that has been done during sessions of senators on application and interpretation of rules of law, and in discussion and improvement of the prepared sentences of the court, and in cooperation with the Division of Case-law researches on questions of civil law and civil process, and also in discussions with experts on civil law. This process, as well as work of senators in the field of working out laws, in working groups of the Ministry of Justice, bodies of judicial self-management, in training organised by the Center of Training of Judges and the various conferences related to jurisprudence and discussions is an essential part of work of senators.
V. Jonikans has noted one more work function of the Chair of the Department of Civil Cases – check of complaints and preparation of protests on court judgments in civil cases, which have come into force. Discussions on questions of application of rules of law presented in complaints are spent in meetings of senators of the department in order to find the answer, whether to reject the complaint or submit the protest. In year 2008 124 protests had been submitted, 66 from them were submitted by the Department of Civil Cases of the Senate.
The Department of Criminal Cases of the Senate: 711 cases were received, 699 cases reviewed, the amount of cases pending - 35
The amount of cases pending in the Department of Criminal Cases of the Senate is more than it was previous year, but as the Chair of the Department Pavels Gruzins has underlined, 35 cases are not an alarm indicator, as it has arisen, because the department had received more cases in the end of the year, and senators of the department can review such quantity in less than one month. 6,2 % of all criminal cases reviewed in the country arrive for reviewing in a cassation order, but more than in half of cases the decision to refuse check of competency of judgment in a cassation order was taken. Out of 350 judgments, which have been adopted, only 9 cases were reviewed in court sessions, the others – in written proceedings. Experience of the Department of Criminal Cases of the Senate convinces of efficiency of written proceedings in cassation instance. Despite it, work load of the senator – on the average 122 cases a year – is too big, as P. Gruzins admitted, it forces the senator to operate as a robot, and he does not have time to investigate the scientific literature, nor to prepare scientific publications.
The Department of Administrative Cases of the Senate: 843 cases were received, 753 - reviewed, number of cases pending - 275
The Department of Administrative Cases in 43,4 % of cases submitted in process of assignment sittings has left to initiate cassation legal proceedings. The Chair of the department Veronika Krumina admitted, that in the beginning the department received reproaches for such decisions, but she has expressed confidence that senators succeed in convincing applicants, that it does not limit their rights for the fair court in cassation instance, as reason of refusal has been proved. The Department of Administrative Cases of appeals has reviewed 7 % of cases in written process, nevertheless, in a part of cases senators have decided to pass to court hearings.
Average load of senators of the Department of Administrative Cases in year 2008 was 108 cases. Taking into account work of senators of the department and their activity out of duties of the senator, it is a great number. Senators of the Department on Administrative Cases are teachers at the Latvian University, in the Higher School of Social Technologies, they participate in working groups of working out of draft laws, in sessions of Legal commitee of Saeima, are members of the Committee of Judicial Ethics, write books and scientific articles. As the main problems in work of the department, V.Krumina has mentioned both additional load of senators for the period of temporary absence of some colleagues and insufficient compensation and improper working conditions of assistants of judges.
Chamber of Civil Cases: 1441 case were received, 1304 cases reviewed, number of cases pending - 1042
The most serious problem that requests decision to be found, is the big amount of cases pending. The Chair of the Chamber of Civil Cases Gunars Aigars has specified, that the most effective decision would be additional 3 judges, who would provide one more panel of court, but has added that he understands that this offer is Utopian. The problem could be solved by simplifying the process of appeal. Positive changes could be brought by changes of the Civil Procedure Law, which come into force in March of this year, but for the analysis and the formulation of other necessary changes judges simply physically do not have enough time.
Chamber of Criminal Cases: 395 cases were received, 359 cases reviewed, number of cases pending - 289
The greatest problem is duration of reviewing of cases in the Chamber of Criminal Cases – in year 2008 it was 6,2 months in average. The main reason for that is frequent adjournment because of absence of persons on trial and advocates. The Chair of the Chamber Ervins Kuskis has specified that almost 40 % of cases have been postponed. For the Chamber of Criminal Cases, after changes of Criminal Procedure Law will come into force in July 2009, there will be „light in the end of the tunnel”, for jurisdiction of cases will change, therefore the number of cases arriving in the chamber can diminish essentially.
Work on judiciary practice – under the threat
The Supreme Court has two basic functions: fair justice in appeal and cassation instance and creation of Case-law or judiciary practice. The Head of the Division of Case-law Zigrida Mita and chairs of all departments of the Senate approved work of the division in year 2008. But in year 2009, at reduction of financing, this performance of function of the Supreme Court has already been decreased, and if it will be necessary to reduce more, the Supreme Court will be forced to give up creation of judiciary practice and publications of judgments at all, such possibility at press conference was admitted by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Also the Supreme Court probably will be forced to stop purchasing books of the legal content for library, payment of databases and to limit availability of the information of other sort to judges, I.Bickovics has specified.
Information prepared by
Head of the Division of Communications of the Supreme Court Rasma Zvejniece
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone: 7020396, 28652211