Justice minister: No plans to change law curtailing courtroom reporting

Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg (Isamaa).
Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg (Isamaa). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Justice minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) says that there are no plans to change amends to the Code of Criminal Procedure, which give courts the right to impose restrictions on media coverage in courtrooms.

"This law is still very fresh, only passed before the end of the previous Riigikogu. Before deciding, we need to analyze the existing case law and then formulate whether this amendment is successful and fulfills its purpose," Aeg told ERR on Tuesday.

Raivo Aeg's predecessor when the amend was passed was Urmas Reinsalu, now foreign minister, and a member of Isamaa too.

As reported on ERR News, before the law change courts were able to declare sessions closed, but under the new law courts can also limit disclosure of areas such as witness testimonies in the courtroom as well. The ministry of justice says the move prevents witness statements influencing each other when they are reported in the media, among other improvements it says the law change has brought.

Two recent cases where this happened included a corruption trial of board members of state owned Port of Tallinn, and the organized crime trial of Hubert Hirv.

In the Port of Tallinn case, Judge Kristina Väliste of Harju County Court ruled in June that those present in the courtroom may not report the content of the testimony of witnesses until the end of the trial.

In the Hirv case, Judge Elina Elkind, at the request of state prosecutor Kati Reitsak, imposed a ban on disclosing the content of witness statements until the end of the investigation. 

Urmas Reinsalu told ERR on Monday that he had been assured at the time the law was changed that: "These rules would not create any new grounds for confidentiality, and that this interim procedure would create another form of proceedings beside a closed court hearing, which seems to be lighter in nature in terms of confidentiality. In order to avoid public oversight of justice, I cannot categorically agree with that direction."

Reinsalu asserted that he, as the individual who submitted the bill, had no such purpose, nor did the government of the time and probably none of the members of the Riigikogu who voted in favor of the bill.

"In the current situation, I would advise the Minister of Justice to evaluate and, if necessary, repeal and revise the recent practice of using this norm. It is not human for law, law is for human beings, or society, to paraphrase the scriptures," he added.

Restrictions on access have also been criticized by lawyers and legal professionals, with lawyer Paul Keres saying public litigation is part of a democratic rule of law and access restrictions should be the exception, adding these exceptions tend to be very numerous. Keres was speaking in the context of the closing of Mati Alaver's file concerning his ski doping, to ETV current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera, in early December.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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