30 January, 2007
A Supreme Court delegation visited Spain from 22nd to 26th of January, as a part of a of project aimed at „Strengthening of administrative capacity of the Supreme Court for creating an effective system of docketing, record-keeping and personnel management". They visited many courts and judicial authorities.
The delegation was formed by Chief Justice Andris Gulans, this project leader and Head of Administration of Supreme Court Anita Kehre, her substitute Sandra Lapina, Head of Senate Chancery Elina Kristopane, Head of Chambers of Criminal Justice Chancery Daina Zomerfelde, Head of Chambers of Civil Justice Chancery Sarmite Puke, Head of the Division of Finance Uldis Cuma Zvirbulis, as well as Head of the Division of Informatics Pavels Veleckis.
Since 1978, when amendments to the constitution of Spain were made, the highest judiciary management authority has been Justice Council, its seal and functions are defined by a special law that came into effect in 1985.
The president of the Justice Council of Spain Francisco Jose Hernando Santiago, who is also the Chief Justice of Spain, spoke at a reception meeting in honour of representatives of Supreme Court of Latvia . He stressed that the main purpose of the Justice Council is to provide the judiciary with the means to remain independent and efficiently managed. It is made up of 21 members, 12 of whom are judges, that after being elected for the term of 5 years, terminate their careers as judges. The rest are high-profile lawyers, that are nominated by different organizations. Justice Council personnel and budget are approved by parliament.
Unlike Italy and France, upon which the Justice Council of Spain was modelled, it does not contain any representative of executive power, though the Ministry of Justice is still responsible for providing courts with material resource and preparing necessary draft laws.
The Justice Council of Spain’s terms of reference cover judge selection and approval, questions related to qualifications and career, as well as judicial disciplinary liability. Council is granted with special seals in control activity and examination. The council’s central staff consists of more than 200 different employees and its annual budget is 62 million euros. Altogether there are approximately 4400 judges in Spain, which is a ratio of 1:10 000 to total population (45 million).
Three years ago on the initiative of the Justice Council a program of reform of the courts was undertaken in Spain, the aim of which was to make the day-to-day operations of courts more effective and to reduce the time required for legal investigation. The Reform was intended to create different levels of secretary institutions, increasing their responsibilities and thereby reducing the workload of judges. Court officials in Spain have a complicated selection system which involves the need for studies and passing of state exams, but further education is provided by the government and career advancement, good salary and social needs are guaranteed.
The Latvian delegation had an opportunity to become acquainted with organization of operation of Supreme Court of Spain (Court of Cassation), so as to visit two High District courts – in Madrid and Saragossa, where cases are investigated in cassation and appellation.
Particular interest of Latvian representatives was aroused by the novelties in modernization of record of judicial sittings. For many years in Spain audio and video records of sittings have been taken, which then form vital case material that is why all trials are not recorded in writing. A secretary will simply produce a summary of the events. Video conferences are widely used, especially while interrogating witnesses and invited experts.
The project in Spain is carried out by the Centre of Legal education that is why the Latvian delegation had the opportunity to attend a variety of theoretical lectures and acquaint themselves with the organization of studies. At the end of the visit, summarizing the impressions Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Latvia Andris Gulans stressed that experience exchange visits like this are necessary not only for the sake of obtaining new knowledge but so as to understand how many officials of our courts are managing such a workload, that in more prosperous European countries would not be possible to manage Guļāns is also of the opinion that the new system that has recently been set up has lived up to all expectations, and possibly appears to be more effective that the one in Supreme Court of Spain. Though there are fields where the operation of Supreme Court can be improved. One innovation is thought to take place quite soon – starting from 1st of March there will be a separate Processing of Complaints department.
In their turn Spanish experts Angeles Hulves and Natalia Reus, who in December made research in Supreme Court of Latvia, this week will come to Riga again to discuss in seminars with court officials possible improvements of operation organization.
This is the first project tender prepared by Supreme Court of Latvia and supported by EU, fulfilled in accordance with concluded between European Commission and government of Republic of Latvia Agreement Memorandum within the framework of financing of European Union Transition Facility program year 2005 Transition Facility.