19 April, 2011
Opinion on draft law of amendments to the law “On Judicial Power”
In its session on the 19th of April, the Board of Justice, pursuant to request of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Saeima, had discussed and expressed its opinion about draft law of amendments to the law “On Judicial Power” before the third reading. In general, the Council of Justice accepts amendments to the law developed by the Saeima, which provide to change procedure of selection of judges and to create new system of assessment of professional activity of judges. However, the Board of Justice expresses its objections and suggests proposals in several significant issues.
Selection, appointment and approval of judges
Selection of candidates for judicial office in courts of all levels, inter alia, in the Supreme Court, is provided in open competition in future. The Council of Justice doesn’t support an opportunity to a person to stand for the post of a judge of the Supreme Court, pursuant to proposal of the Council of Justice, which would be an obvious advantage of a single candidate. The Council of Justice believes that ex-judges of the Constitutional Court, judges of an international court or judges of supranational court may stand for judicial posts in courts of all levels with no some special suggestion of the Council of Justice. The draft law provides right of a person, who had worked in legal profession protractedly and exemplary, to stand for the post of the judge of the Supreme Court. The Council of Justice didn’t support such standard, admitting that there is lack of criteria for determination of such persons.
The Board of Justice believes that minimum age of 40 years stated in the law for candidate for the post of a judge of the Supreme Court at present, is incommensurately high, it doesn’t correspond to present situation and so it must be cancelled, especially in the situation, when all candidates for the post of a judge of the Supreme Court will be evaluated in competition, as it has been provided.
The draft law provides to judges, who have been appointed in the post for the term of three years, not to include time, when a judge is on prenatal or maternity leave, in this total period, but other reasons, for example, lying up, are not taken into account. The Council of Justice considers this restriction to be unjust and discriminating, so it advises that any absence, which is longer than six months, shouldn’t be counted in period of three years.
The Judicial Qualifications Committee
The draft law provides to change creation and numeral composition of the Judicial Qualifications Committee principally, stating that the Judicial Conference has to advance and elect seven judges or Honoured Judges, whose knowledge and experience are highly appreciated by professionals of branch of judiciary and judges, to be members of the committee. The Council of Justice indicates that criteria of advancement are unclear and representation of all instances and branches of law is not ensured, so it asks to preserve existing procedure of creation of the committee, providing that the Judicial Qualifications Committee consists of judges elected from each department of the Senate and the Chamber of the Supreme Court (by one from each structural unit); of judges elected from Judicial Panel of Civil Cases and Judicial Panel of Criminal Cases, and from Administrative regional court (by one judge from each panel, and one judge from Administrative regional court), of two judges of district (city) courts and of two judges of departments of Land books. The Council of Justice also considers envisaged numeral composition of judges of Qualifications Committee– seven judges – to be insufficient instead of former eleven judges.
Assessment of professional operation of judges
Amendments to the law “On Judicial Power” provide to change existing system of judicial qualification classes with new system of assessment of professional activity of judges. The assessment will be performed by the Judicial Qualifications Committee before advancement of the candidate for the post of a judge of district (city) court to re-appointment or approval in the post of a judge without limitation of term of office, and then – once in five years.
The Board of Justice believes that duties performed by senators of the Supreme Court and Chairs of courts in their posts differ from professional activities performed by other judges, and it should be taken in account in assessment of professional activities of judges.
The Board also believes that procedure of assessment of professional activity of judges should not be established in the law in details, but the Council of Justice should be instructed to develop and to approve it.
Taking into account that judicial wages consist of wages stated in the Law on Wages of Officials and Employees of State and Municipal Institutions and extra payment for qualification class, the Council of Justice believes that rejection from judicial qualifications classes should take place simultaneously with correspondent amendments to the Law on Wages of Officials and Employees of State and Municipal Institutions.
The Board of Justice believes that implementation of a new system of assessment of professional activity of judges will be laborious and quite complicated – the Judicial Conference has to elect new Judicial Qualifications Committee and the Council of Justice has to determine content and procedure of examination of professional knowledge of a judge, as well as to approve samples of necessary documents. When creating new system, haste shouldn’t be admissible, so the Council of Justice accepted that the new procedure will start operation as from the 1st of January, 2013. The Judicial Qualifications Committee will have to perform regular assessment of professional activity of judges until the 1st of January, 2016, for the first time.
Extras paid to judges for additional functions
The Board of Justice stated that the judge receives extra payment for replacement of the Chair of the court or of the Head of the department of land books during his/her temporary absence (except for cases, when the deputy of the chair of corresponding court or that of the Head of department of landbooks replaces him/her), for replacement of the vice-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or vice-Chair of regional court, for replacement of the Chair of the Department of the Senate and of the Chamber of the Supreme Court, as well as for replacement of the Chair of court house during temporary absence. The judge receives extra payment in amount of difference in wages, but not more than 20 per cent of his/her wages.
The extra payment is determined also for work in the Judicial Qualifications Committee, the Judicial Disciplinary Committee, the Council of Justice and the Committee on Judicial Ethics.
Personnel issues in Vidzeme and Riga regional courts
The Board of Justice decided to support appointment of Modris Lapins, the judge of Vidzeme regional court, in the post of the vice-Chair of Vidzeme regional court and the Chair of the Judicial Panel of Criminal Cases, and appointment of Rinalda Liepina in the post of the Chair of Madona court house of Vidzeme regional court.
The Board of Justice instructed two judges to execute duties of a judge in Riga regional court: Marija Bebrisa, the judge of Riga city Latgale Suburb court will execute judicial duties during a vacancy of a judge, and Adrija Kasakovska, the judge of Tukuma district court – during temporary absence of a judge.
Information prepared by
Rasma Zvejniece, the Head of the Division of Communication of the Supreme Court
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