Cablegate: The Latvian Court System: A Primer

Published: Tue 14 Aug 2007 01:52 PM
DE RUEHRA #0617/01 2261352
P 141352Z AUG 07
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: The Latvian Court System: A Primer
1. (U) Summary: Latvia's civil law judicial system is a three tier
structure consisting of district or city courts, regional courts,
and headed by a Supreme Court. All civil and criminal matters go
through these courts. The Constitutional Court is a fully
independent body whose mandate is to interpret the constitution and
handle matters related to the violation of rights afforded to
individuals by the constitution. This cable provides basic
information on structure of the Latvian court system. End Summary.
A Three Level Court System
2. (U) Latvia has a three level court system: District or city
courts, regional courts and the Supreme Court. These courts have
jurisdiction on civil, criminal and administrative cases. District
or city courts are the courts of first instance. There are 34 such
courts in Latvia. Regional courts function as appeal courts and as
the courts of first instance for larger civil lawsuits and
particular kinds of serious criminal cases. Latvia has five
regional courts. All regional courts have separate departments for
civil and criminal cases.
The Supreme Court
3. (U) The Supreme Court is the highest level court and its
decisions are final. The Supreme Court functions as the court of
cassation - only the application of the law rather than the subject
matter is reviewed - and as the court of appeal for cases where
regional courts have served as the first instance. The Supreme
Court is divided into a chamber of civil appeal, a chamber of
criminal appeal, and the Senate. The Supreme Court also has the
authority to pardon individuals convicted by military tribunals and
the courts during the Soviet occupation of Latvia.
4. (U) The Senate handles decisions involving cassation appeals,
participates in working groups to prepare opinions on draft laws;
participates in the council on judicial training and the council on
judicial discipline; and participates in continued education courses
for judges of district and regional courts.
5. (U) The Plenum of the Supreme Court - comprised of the full
Supreme Court - may adopt legally binding explanations with regard
to the application of the law. The Plenum offers an opinion on
whether there are grounds for the dismissal of the President of the
Supreme Court or the dismissal of the Prosecutor General. The
Plenum also has the authority to confirm which justices will serve
in the Senate and the two chambers, to elect the chairpersons of the
Senate Departments, to elect the Chairperson of the Supreme Court
Chambers, to elect two deputy Chief Justices, as well as to decide
other important issues related to the operation of the Court.
6. (U) Neither the Chief Justice nor the Supreme Court Justices can
control or instruct the judges of a lower level court on
adjudication of specific cases or regarding the operation of lower
level courts.
7. (U) The total number of Supreme Court Justices is determined by
the Parliament based on the recommendation of the Chief Justice, and
is currently 46. The Chief Justice is selected from among the
justices for confirmation by the Parliament and has responsibility
for oversight of the work of the Supreme Court. The President of the
Supreme Court is appointed for seven years. Sixty percent of the
Supreme Court is female.
The Supreme Court Chief Justice
8. (U) The current Chief Justice, Mr. Andris Gulans, has served as
the Chief Justice since 1994, having been reelected in 2001, but he
has stated he will not consider another term and he will step down
next year. Currently, the Supreme Court consists of 23 justices of
the Senate, including the Chief Justice, and 23 justices who serve
in the Supreme Court's Chambers. The Chief Justice has the
authority to recommend individuals to be confirmed for a position as
justice, based upon recommendation made by the Judicial
Qualifications Committee and elected by the national judge
conference for four years. The Judicial Qualifications Committee is
comprised of five Supreme Court judges, two regional court judges,
two disctrict judges and two judges from the land registry court.
Supreme Court justices are confirmed by the Parliament for service
until the age of 70. Upon a recommendation by the Judicial
Qualifications Committee, the Chief Justice may extend the term of a
70 year old justice for an additional five year term. The Chief
Justice presides over the Plenary Session of the Supreme Court as
well as the sessions of the Supreme Court Senate. The Chief Justice
is not permitted to issue instructions to justices with regard to
the review of any case pending before the Supreme Court, to request
information or report on any cases decided, nor inquire with regard
to any opinions expressed in the decision-making process. However,
the Chief Justice may request information from a justice about his
or her review of a case in order to determine whether grounds exist
for the initiation of disciplinary proceedings in the disciplinary
committee, which he chairs.
The Constitutional Court
9. (U) The Constitutional Court of Latvia consists of seven judges
and is an independent body separate from the Supreme Court. The
Constitutional Court reviews the following types of cases: 1)
compliance of laws with the Constitution; 2) compliance with the
Constitution of international agreements signed or entered into by
Latvia; 3) Compliance of official acts (with the exception of
administrative acts) by the Parliament, the Cabinet of Ministers,
the President, the Chairperson of the Parliament and the Prime
Minister with the law; 4) and Compliance of Latvian law with the
international agreements entered into by Latvia.
10. (U) The Constitutional Court does not have the right to initiate
cases, it can only review a case after a claim has been filed by one
of the following: the President, the Parliament as a whole or by at
least twenty members of the Parliament, the Cabinet of Ministers,
the Plenum of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General, the Council
of the State Control, the State Human Rights Bureau, the Council of
a Municipality, or a Minister. In 2000 the Constitutional Court Law
was amended to allow for any person, who believes that his or her
fundamental rights, as set out in the Constitution, have been
11. (U) The Court consists of 7 justices nominated by the Plenum of
the Supreme Court and confirmed by a majority vote of the parliament
for a term of ten years. Judges must be at least 30 years old and
must have a university level education and at least ten years of
legal professional work or legal academic work. The Chairperson of
the Constitutional Court as well as the Deputy are elected for a
period of three years from among the members of the Constitutional
Court by an absolute majority of the entirety of the Latvian
judiciary by secret vote.
12. (U) The entire body of the Constitutional Court reviews matters
on compliance of laws passed by parliament and regulations approved
by the Cabinet of Ministers with the Constitution. A panel of three
judges handles all other matters.
13. (U) The Constitutional Court is required to deliver their ruling
within thirty days after the original court sitting accepting the
case, although in more difficult cases, the court can grant itself
an additional period of time to consider the case. The judgment is
determined by majority vote. If one votes against the majority
opinion, the opposing opinion is given to the court in writing and
attached to the case. All judgments are final and are effective
immediately and binding on all. However, should the court rule
against the constitutionality of a treaty that has already entered
into force, the legal situation is not as defined. (Comment: In
theory, this could happen if Latvia and Russia exchange instruments
of ratification on their border treaty before the Court rules on the
claim by 20 members of parliament that the treaty violates the
constitution. End comment.)
14. (U) To date, the Constitutional Court has received over 900
claims and has accepted for consideration more than 140.
Approximately half of these cases are claims by individuals. As of
the end of 2006, the Court has announced nearly 100 opinions.
15. (U) Comment: Little is expected to change in the structure and
daily function of the Supreme Court once Gulans steps down as Chief
of the Supreme Court in 2008. At this time, there has been no
public speculation as to who would take his place, although the most
likely candidate will be Gulans' deputy, Gunars Aigars, who
currently heads the Civil Chamber. End Comment.
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