Judge: Virtual sessions needed to deal with legal cases due to crisis

Chief Justice Villu Kõve. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Villu Kõve said that the biggest concern for the court system of Estonia at present is how they will manage to handle all the high-volume criminal cases which have been adjourned to the fall due to the emergency situation. One solution is to introduce more video sessions.

In order to ensure the effective resolving of criminal cases, the legislator should take additional measures to reduce the share of oral court sessions and expand possibilities for the use of video sessions, Kõve said, while giving a presentation to the Riigikogu on Wednesday.  

The chief justice of the Supreme Court said that there will be a time soon when the workload of courts will increase significantly due to the so-called survival disputes arising from redundancies and payment difficulties caused by the spread of the virus.

It can also be assumed that the numbers of tax disputes will increase and crimes against property will become more frequent.

"I'm not sure that, in the event of pile-ups, the courts will be able to deal with the cases as effectively as they have been to date," Kõve said.

The head of the Supreme Court listed his proposals for how the Riigikogu could make a contribution to the prevention of pile-ups and faster resolving of cases.

First, on the eve of a period of insolvencies, the parliament should facilitate the insolvency proceeding, foremost by significantly cutting the length of the prerequisite time period for freeing a person of debt.

Consideration should also be given to changing the regulation concerning the minimum size of maintenance support -- to set out a more flexible methodology for calculating the size of maintenance support, make the system of maintenance allowance simpler and enable its provision already before turning to court.

"The splitting of court cases should be made more flexible, the procedural deadlines that undermine judiciary proceedings and are unreasonable should be abandoned, legal effect should be given to a digital court file, the acceptability of written proceedings expanded, and the conduct of video sessions regulated by law," Kõve said.

The head of the Supreme Court emphasized the need to accelerate and facilitate the resolving of criminal cases. It was namely with the resolving of criminal cases that several problems were revealed in the work of courts during the emergency situation, which mainly arose from the legislative requirement for the physical presence and hearing of a person.

"The resolving of high-volume criminal cases pursuant to the general procedure may become seriously undermined upon the arrival of a second wave of the virus in the fall unless additional legislative measures are implemented to reduce the share of oral sessions and expand possibilities for the use of video sessions," Kõve said, expressing hope that the Ministry of Justice is able to quickly draw up corresponding proposals and put them before the legislator as a matter of priority.

One of the tasks for the court system in the near term, according to Kõve, is to strike a sensible balance between virtual and oral proceedings. The broader problem entailed in the increase in the share of virtual sessions and a reduction in the share of oral sessions is to do with the publicity of court proceedings.

Kõve said an important question at present is how to avoid access by the public becoming illusory in a situation where the crisis is over but our day-to-day life has changed a bit in light of the crisis. 

"Maybe it's about time to start a discussion about the public streaming of sessions over the internet," the chief justice of the the Supreme Court said. 


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Editor: Helen Wright

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