The Legal Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu decided on Monday that it would launch hearings regarding the alleged bias of the Prosecutor's Office, and would begin by summoning Minister of the Interior and Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) chairman Mart Helme, who accused the prosecuting authority of being biased, before the committee first.
"First we will summon Minister of the Interior Mart Helme so he can provide his own explanations — where he sees issue with the independence of the Prosecutor's Office," Legal Affairs Committee chairman Jaanus Karilaid (Centre) told ERR on Monday. "And then we'll keep going from there, with experts in the field, and we'll also summon the prosecutor general, and the minister of justice."
According to Karilaid, the committee wants to determine whether these claims are grounded.
"If you ask why, then occasionally the matter of the independence of various positions crops up from time to time," he explained. "These claims can be checked under parliamentary supervision. We find — and I'd like to remind you that the Legal Affairs Committee includes representatives of five political parties, and this decision was unanimous — that it would not be expedient to form a separate committee and waste taxpayer dollars on it. Rather, we have the appropriate competent officials in our own Legal Affairs Committee."
The committee chairman noted that representatives of even the Reform Party, the largest opposition party, had discussed the matter within their parliamentary group and found that the most reasonable course of action would be to conduct a review and oversight via the Legal Affairs Committee specifically.
On Nov. 10, MP Katri Raik, the representative of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE), had proposed forming a special Riigikogu committee to investigate alleged bias in the Prosecutor's Office following Helme's accusations against the prosecuting authority.
"In a public address on Nov. 8, Minister of the Interior Mart Helme announced a serious crime against the rule of law," Raik said at the time, calling for the formation of a Riigikogu committee to investigate the matter. "He affirmed that launching an investigation into the adviser of Minister Mart Järvik is politically biased. As a result, the minister cast doubt on one of the fundamental principles of the rule of law — the separation of powers. This is an incredibly serious accusation, the validity of which must be investigated immediately."
"Politically unfounded attacks against the Prosecutor's Office significantly undermine the trustworthiness of Estonia's legal system," committee deputy chairman Toomas Kivimägi (Reform) said on Monday according to a press release. "In a situation where this has been done by a member of the government, the Legal Affairs Committee weighing in on the matter is inevitable. These accusations cannot just go unaddressed."
It is absolutely essential, he continued, that the government reaches a deal soon regarding a candidate for the next prosecutor general; he believed this would provide the Prosecutor's Office with greater assurance in defending the independence of its organization.
"So we can answer those questions regarding why questions arise from time to time regarding the independence of the Prosecutor's Office after our hearings," Karilaid said. "In the rule of law, it should go without saying that the Prosecutor's Office is independent and doesn't particularly bend to political winds."
According to the committee chair, the goal is to attain clarity regarding whether or not claims regarding bias in the Prosecutor's Office are at all substantiated or whether the issue is in the overregulation of criminal law and there being too much leeway in the interpretation of the law.
"Have we turned our attention toward the Prosecutor's Office too late to ensure that all of these proceedings are professional and understandable and don't clash so often with society's sense of justice?" he asked. "These are the questions. But it's not worth overdramatizing this or those who cite problems, because in a democratic society, if there are questions, then they need to be answered as well. I find that organizing this sequence of hearings and drawing up a summarizing document via a standing committee is appropriate. This was also demonstrated by the vote — all nine members of the Legal Affairs Committee agreed to this form of procedure."
The first hearing in the Prosecutor's Office matter is planned to take place at the Legal Affairs Committe's Dec. 3 meeting. Hearings will take place in December and continue through January, after which the committee will pass its conclusions.
The committee has also decided to invite two additional members from each Riigikogu parliamentary group to join the nine committee members at its hearings in the matter.
Editor: Aili Vahtla