The Ministry of Justice is planning judicial reform which would entail Estonia having just one of each of the three types of court, county, administrative and circuit, as well as streamlining the operation of the court system and changing the basis on which judges are attested. Critics say the reforms could negatively impact judicial independence.
Ministry undersecretary Viljar Peep held a meeting on Tuesday with judges, where the proposed reforms were discussed, daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) reports (link in Estonian).
EPL reported inter-court networks and in-house departments will be set up, and judges will be attested by a higher-level court than they are currently, as well as streamlining the number of courts nationwide.
Disciplinary proceedings will be changed and barriers between officials moving between judicial authorities will also be removed, the paper said.
Since some courts have complained in the past of high workloads compared with other courts, some cases, including complaints over bailiffs, complaints from prisoners, misdemeanor enforcement cases, and pre-trial judges' cases, will be shared more equitably between all courts, EPL said.
Judges' incapacity benefits will also be restored, it is reported.
Judge: Significant changes may affect judicial independence
Judge Anu Uritam from Harju County Court said the plans, as she understands them, will significantly change the current judicial system and impact on the independence of the judiciary, although the details are not clear yet, she said.
As no more details on the intention to develop (an official term - "väljatöötamiskavatsust (VTK)") have been submitted to the Supreme Court's council for the administration of justice (Kohtute haldamise nõukoda) yet, Uritam said she could not comment further.
Viljar Peep said that since the full VTK have not been viewed by the council for the administration of justice yet, he could not make it public.
However this council meeting will take place in the next few days and the fears of judges based on one meeting were unfounded, he said.
Peep added a general attestation for judges was not planned, but rather the judge themselves, or the chair of the same court, or a higher level one, could request general feedback on a judge's work from the Supreme Court.
Estonia's legal system is organized on three tiers, with the county and administrative courts on the lowest rung, followed by the circuit courts and then the Supreme Court.
There are currently four county courts four of the most populous of Estonia's 15 counties and covering the country as a whole – Harju (north), Tartu (south), Pärnu (west) and Viru (east) counties. The circuit and administrative courts both number two, one of each in Tallinn and Tartu. The Supreme Court itself is based in Tartu.
Editor: Andrew Whyte