Top court: Cuts would lead to unconstitutional underfunding of courts

Supreme Court building in Tartu.
Supreme Court building in Tartu. Source: Supreme Court of Estonia

it is unacceptable to apply a uniform percentage of cuts to all functions of the state, leaders of Estonia's Supreme Court have said. In this case it would lead to the unconstitutional underfunding of the administration of justice, which is a core function of the state.

The state needs to find €60 million worth of cuts to help close the deficit and the cuts will apply equally across all government departments, the Ministry of Finance has said.

In an appeal to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), Villu Kõve, chief justice of the Supreme Court, and Ullar Kaljumäe, the top court's director, wrote "all internal possibilities for optimizing operating costs" have been "exhausted".

The pair explained courts cannot simplify their own work processes because the procedure is prescribed by law. Further cuts would only be conceivable at the expense of the main activity, meaning reducing the number of cases or the quality of handling thereof, the appeal said.

"This, however, would lead to an unconstitutional underfunding of the administration of justice as a core function of the state and the effectiveness of the protection of the rights of individuals would decrease," they note.

Kõve and Kaljumäe point out some of the functions of the state depend on the political preferences of the parliament and the government, such as investments in infrastructure, while others, including the administration of justice, are constitutionally indispensable for the state.

In addition to the problem of underfunding, the chairman and the director of the top court are pointing the premier's attention to an issue concerning budgeting methodology.

"The structure of the budget of the Supreme Court has changed since 2019, so that the share of estimated funds, which stayed on the level of 30 percent from 2012 to 2019, is constantly increasing," they said. 

Estimated funds, within the meaning of the State Budget Act, are funs for expenditures the amount of which arises from law. 

Although this guarantees the salaries of the judges, the amount left over is not enough to cover the rest of the costs entailed in the administration of justice, Kõve and Kaljumäe say.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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