THE PLENARY SESSION OF THE SUPREME COURT DRAWS ATTENTION TO THE MOST IMPORTANT TOPICALITIES – NUMBER OF CASES PENDING AND COURT REFORM
24 February, 2014
“The Supreme Court may be satisfied with work performed last year – we have worked hard, intensively and qualitatively”, Ivars Bickovics, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said at the Plenary Session of the Supreme Court on Friday, February 21.
Past year is characterized by the two most important topicalities – by number of cases received in the court and increase of accumulation of cases pending, and by amendments to the law “On Judicial Power”, which mark commencement of reorganisation of the Supreme Court. Heads of all structural units of the court touched upon these subjects in their reports, analysing reasons, why amount of work does not decrease, and expressing their vision on what could be changed to make work of the court more effective.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court stressed that the goal of the Plenary Session is to listen to opinions, to update problems in order to find solution of those and to express opinion of the court to legislator and executive power for further action.
Influence of amendments to the law to work of the court is assessed and recommendations on effectivisation of work are stated
Several ideas declared at Plenary Sessions of past years are heard and already implemented in law, and Ivars Bickovics, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, mentioned provisions amended in the Civil Procedure Law, namely, that submission of protests upon rulings effective falls under prosecutor’s competence only, extension of role of an advocate in cassation instance, procedure of appeal in cases regarding small claims, as examples. Zigmants Gencs, the Chair of the Department of Civil Cases, also mentioned possibility to write decision of the assignments sitting on rejection of cassation proceedings in form of resolution, to examine cases under cassation procedure in written proceedings, limitations of contractual penalties established in the Civil Law, etc., as positive changes. As the Chair of the department mentioned, it holds out hope of decrease of terms of review of cases, which are the longest in civil procedure cassation instance at present.
As opportunity to decrease number of cases appealed, Zigmants Gencs also mentioned improvement of quality of rulings rendered by courts of the first and the second instance, which should be achieved by perfection of judges’ qualification.
It was possible to notice influence of amendments to the Administrative Procedure Law, which were made on November 1, 2012, to administrative procedure exactly last year. Veronika Krumina, the Chair of the Department of Administrative Cases, admitted that system of administrative courts has been improved in general, namely, terms of review of cases in administrative cases have been significantly decreased in general. However, amendments set extra load on cassation instance, and it increased number of cases and prolonged average term of review of cases in the Department of Administrative Cases. In accordance with abovementioned amendments the department, for example, decides on such procedural questions as leaving cassation complaints and ancillary complaints not proceeded with.
Vision of Veronika Krumina regarding effectivisation of work of the court is related, firstly, to more extensive case-law analysis, which is necessary for uniformity of case-law, establishing analytical structural unit of departments for this purpose. Secondly, it is related to strengthening of service of assistants to judges, stating competitive remuneration to them within unified system of wages in state and municipal institutions. Lastly, it is related to promotion of strengthening of rule of law and legal culture in general, and conference dedicated to the decade of administrative courts, which will take place in April, will be devoted to this issue.
Peteris Dzalbe, the Chair of the Department of Criminal Cases assessed year 2013 as significant due to the fact that so many important amendments had been done in the Criminal Law that one could say – the law is as if written anew. Amendments increased volume of work of courts, inter alia of the Department of Criminal Cases, as many court rulings had to be re-examined and reversed due to amendments to the law, which became effective as from April, 1.
The second significant change in work of the department is repeal of rulings effective and renewal of criminal proceedings due to statement of the chief prosecutor regarding newly discovered circumstances in relation to judgement of the European Court of Human Rights. Judgements of the ECHR and development of understanding of human rights impacts work of courts even more.
Discussions were raised by several compilations of court decisions performed by the Department of Criminal Cases, namely, regarding punishments applied. On the basis of conclusions made within research of case-law, recommendations on perfection of case-law and application of laws are developed, for example, attention was turned once more to limited possibilities of courts to modify accusations within present regulations of the Criminal Procedure Law.
The Chair of the Department also criticised legislator and executive power for the fact that improvements of work of courts are often only declarative, not on the merits. However, he also pointed out insufficient continuing education for judges, and hiding of self-consciousness and disinterest behind judicial independence. Chairs of courts should play more significant role in “shaking” judges by initiating disciplinary cases, if there is ground to do that. In its turn, the Department of Criminal Cases, providing support to judges of courts of lower instance, decided not only to summarise case-law and to read lectures in Judicial Training Centre, but also to visit court catchment areas to meet judges and to discuss unclear and problematic issues.
The greatest criticism is dedicated to audio records instead of minutes of court hearings
The most critical assessment of legislation process related to organisation of work of courts was given by Gunars Aigars, the Chair of the Chamber of Civil Cases. “This process is extremely shallow, premature, imprecise, thinking of some subjective goals”, G.Aigars pointed out.
Firstly, it is related to court reform, which makes judges of chambers of the Supreme Court work not only under great load, but also in stress conditions caused by uncertainty about future that will come after liquidation of court chambers.
Secondly, it is substitution of written minutes with audio record in civil proceedings. The law is adopted, the process began, but it is not clear to courts and participants of cases – if such record is means of proving in civil procedure, what its reliability is and how to act, if the record is not done due to technical error? The Chair of the Chamber of Civil Cases mentioned only some of questions, which were not answered to.
Peteris Dzalbe, the Chair of the Department of Criminal Cases, pointed out in his report that this “effect”, which will be ensured by, in his opinion, premature implementation of audio records in adjudication of cases is not guessed yet. “Possibly, specialists in decryption of noises, as it may turn out that in the same place, where noise appears in record, crucial turn in solution of dispute occurred, in opinion of participants of a case”, P.Dzalbe said, adding that this process is not turned to effectivisation of work of a court, as much time, power, energy and means are associated with matters, which are not much related to administering of justice.
One thought of cases in court reform, but not of judges yet
“The Chamber of Criminal Cases successfully advances towards finish line or December 31, 2014, when the Chamber will stop its existence”, Ervins Kuskis, the Chair of the chamber reported at the Plenary Session.
Number of cases pending in the Chamber of Criminal Cases from previous year is 139 cases. If calculating mathematically, it is possible to review those within one year; moreover, the chamber does not receive new cases anymore. However, as the Chair of the chamber pointed out – still great number of cases postponed should be taken into account. For example, last year the chamber postponed review of cases 172 times.
The Criminal Procedure Law establishes exact procedure, how cases, which will not be reviewed by the Chamber of Criminal Cases, will be proceeded – cases transferred for review in the chamber until December 31, 2013, but in which adjudication shall not be commenced until June 30, 2014, shall be given for review to a regional court as the court of appellate instance. Also cases, which shall not be adjudicated until December 31, 2014, shall be transferred for review to a regional court as to appellate instance. E.Kuskis expressed persuasion that these amendments to the law will give opportunity to the chamber to assign review of cases as fast as possible and shall accelerate terms of review of cases pending.
However, procedure regarding future of judges of court chambers after liquidation of chambers is not so clear and stated in laws. Extensive discussions were raised at the plenary session regarding this issue and regarding possible increase of number of judges in cassation departments.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court informed that at present proposals regarding opportunity of faster retirement of judges in case of reorganisation of the court and regarding compensations, if judges will be dismissed from their offices, have been drafted.
Regarding transfer of judges of chambers to work to cassation departments, previous procedure will be implemented – the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will ask for statement of the Judicial Qualification Committee regarding conformity of possible candidates to work in cassation instance and general meeting of judges of correspondent department will vote for candidates, who will receive positive statement of the Qualification Committee.
Information prepared by
Rasma Zvejniece, the Head of the Division of Communication of the Supreme Court
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone: 67020396, 28652211