Supreme Court to rule on president's defense forces act dispute on Thursday

The present-day Supreme Court of Estonia building in Tartu.
The present-day Supreme Court of Estonia building in Tartu. Source: Supreme Court of Estonia

The Supreme Court is to rule on the so-called defense forces' intelligence act – arising from President Kersti Kaljulaid's request to declare the Defense Forces Organisation Act passed in the Riiikogu unconstitutional.

The complaint from the president is to be resolved via written comments rather than oral hearings, with the Ministry of Justice, the Chancellor of Justice, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Interior all having submitted their opinions in addition to the Riigikogu, the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF), the Internal Security Services (ISS) and the president herself.

The first sitting on the dispute between president and Riigikogu was held on October 8, with the key issue being whether the Defence Forces Organisation Act is constitutional or not. The act would give the defense forces in Estonia greater intelligence powers including expended surveillance rights, than is currently the case.

The act was passed on February 20 this year, under the XIII Riigikogu's composition, but the president declined to proclaim it, returning it to the Riigikogu. The XIV Riigikogu, elected at the March 3 general election, reenacted the law on May 29 without amends, and on June 14 the president announced she would take the case to the Supreme Court.

The president commissioned her legal analsyis on the case from the private sector – law firm Sorainen – since the president had been without a legal adviser for over a year up to that point, ERR reports.

Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Rait Maruste, commenting on the use of an external law firm, said that the president may exceptionally order legal analysis from outside her office, adding that this should not normally be the case.

"The President of the Republic has one constitutional procedure, which is the proclamation of laws, and it is her constitutional duty. To do so reasonably, she should have an adequate legal counseling system, that is, assistants who are proficient assessing whether the drafts are constitutional or not. Only [the president's] own legal department can do this on a regular basis," said Maruste.

The Office of the President ceased to have its own legal adviser from August 2018. Taavi Linnamäe, the president's legal adviser, told ERR that such an adviser was unnecessary, since the president had sufficient legal expertise.

Proclaiming or rejecting legislation passed by the Riigikogu is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the president and involves no other Constitutional institution. The president also has the right to veto legislation by not proclaiming, instead sending it back to the Riigikogu anew, which is what happened in this case.

The Supreme Court is located in Tartu.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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