Samost and Sildam: We've gone too far closing trials to public

Toomas Sildam (left) and Anvar Samost.
Toomas Sildam (left) and Anvar Samost. Source: ERR

The courts in Estonia have decided regarding several court cases recently that the public should not know about them, but they have gone too far with this, as the more accessible justice is to the public, the fewer questions arise regarding whether it is entirely right and fair, journalists Anvar Samost and Toomas Sildam said in their eponymous radio show on Sunday.

Samost said that an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure to enter into force at the end of last year now allows not just the closing of trials to the public, but also the implementing of restrictions on public hearings according to which anything going on in the courtroom cannot be described, reported on or covered in the news until the trial has concluded.

"This has unfortunately been used in the Tallinna Sadam (Port of Tallinn) bribery case, which is a very long case with many witnesses and very big potential political ties and in which case the process has been in the dark for the public for several months already," he cited as an example, noting that the press in Estonia doesn't have enough resources to send reporters to the courtroom every day if they cannot publish a word of it anyway.

Samost also highlighted the trial of Hubert Hirv as well as the file on ski coach Mati Alaver. In the latter's case, Alaver was handed a small punishment, he barely had to say anything at all to the public in court and both the court and the prosecution gave the public and the press hope that once the court ruling enters into force, it would be possible to review the case file, which would include more exact details. Then the judge decided to seal the record.

Sildam, in turn, said that when speaking with judges, he has been left with the impression that an issue exists in the judiciary, all the way up to the Supreme Court: on the one hand, a fair trial is important, that one set of witnesses' statements shouldn't be able to influence the statements of other witnesses, but on the other hand, it appears as though many judges find that things have gone too far in the closing of such trials or sealing of records.

Samost added that the amendment allows for the closing of public trials in the future, and that the public isn't the only one to suffer as a result. Among other things, a public trial also serves to protect the defendant, who may not always be found guilty. The public also expects that the press fulfills a certain role, and presumes that they will find out via the media how justice is served, and for example whether some politician or other may be involved in the Tallinna Sadam bribery affair. This, he highlighted, is a bigger question regarding the functioning of society as a whole.

"If we now have the opportunity to increasingly hide these trials from before the public enshrined in the law, this causes one to wonder whether judgment [in Estonia] is still in fact right and fair, and whether the interests of the accused are protected," he added.

Sildam noted that the more accessible justice is to the public, the fewer questions arise regarding whether it is entirely right and fair.

"I believe that the more we know about what is going on in the courtroom, and the fewer these trials are temporarily closed and records sealed, the better," he added.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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