Estonian Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise gave an overview of her activities in 2020 and 2021 to the parliament at a sitting on Tuesday and commended the Riigikogu for the legal amendments introduced that help resolve people's problems.
At the start of her presentation, Madise highlighted that during the past year, the office of the chancellor of justice received over 5,000 complaints, applications and addresses, of which over 3,000 required a resolution. The justice chancellor's work volume grew by one-fifth on year and has doubled over the past six years.
Madise said that the shared goal should be for Estonia to be the best place to live, a prerequisite for which is adherence to the Estonian Constitution, which highlights freedom, responsibility and reason.
Madise thanked the parliament for amending certain legal provisions causing unfair treatment. Examples of said improvements include young people gaining access to psychiatric help, improvements to school children's safety on tour buses and victims of misdemeanors gaining more rights.
A new phenomenon that has caught the justice chancellor's attention is own-initiative charges and taxes. As an example, she highlighted certain payments being required in some rural municipalities to the local budget for the establishment of detailed plans or in the form of tolerance fees to the local community for building factories.
"Essentially, this may very well be justified," Madise said. "But this is where the Riigikogu should create the option of levying such a local tax or charge."
Madise said that the justice chancellor also has the function of supervising and promoting compliance with the rights of people with disabilities. She said that all buildings and the public space should be safe and accessible for everyone with reduced mobility and that positive developments have been observed in this regard. For example, new bus procurements are held for the acquisition of low-floor vehicles. For people with hearing loss, a software turning speech into subtitles has been developed by the Tallinn University of Technology and the first audio-description film has been completed for people with visual impairment. When the registration of people began for vaccination, however, people with visual impairment were forgotten once more, she added.
With regard to problems at care homes, the chancellor of justice highlighted staff shortages, very low salary levels and lack of professional training.
As to prisons in Estonia, an unacceptable practice of strip searching children continues prior to permitting them to visit their parents, according to Madise. This practice constitutes a violation of international principles and the Estonian Constitution and is completely impermissible, she said.
Madise said that during the review period, she had to explain on repeated occasions that even during the severest crises, the chancellor of justice still needs to be guided by the Constitution and laws.
"Pursuant to our Constitution, even during a pandemic restrictions and deprivation of liberty still need to be justified, not the other way around," the justice chancellor said. It is during the pandemic that people tend to come up with simple solutions and demand a firm hand and breaches to fundamental rights, she added.
Madise said that according to the Constitution, the state is led by the Riigikogu. Unfortunately, the chancellor of justice sees in her work that the framework within which entrepreneurs are supposed to operate under fair conditions of competition tends to be formalized through ministerial orders and not through law, which is not something that guarantees a good economic environment.
"It would be unconstitutional in any case, because pursuant to the Estonian Constitution, all important issues must be decided by the Riigikogu," she said. "On several occasions, we have observed entrepreneurs seeking to prevent provisions regulating conditions of competition from ending up in legislation. It is possible that this comes from a very good place, but it could also contain sprouts of lobbying."
Decisions with country-wide impact limiting the fundamental rights of all people must be made by the Riigikogu, Madise underscored.
"This ensures that 101 life experiences are reflected in the public discussion and the ensuing decision, and it also guarantees constitutional review," she said.
Madise noted that local government election campaigns can be carried out at youth centers and schools because young people aged 16 and 17 also have the right to vote; however, the boundary is simple - no school or youth center is permitted to become an election headquarters for any one party.
The chancellor of justice also answered questions by MPs.
Editor: Marcus Turovski