The government has approved a draft prepared by the Ministry of Justice, which will make court decisions public via the state gazette, the Riigi Teataja, ahead of their entering force.
In addition, the bill, if it passes, will provide for various means of disclosure of court orders, plus the webcasting of some court hearings. The bill follows a rise in the use of written court proceedings, whose details were often not made public.
At present, the public only has access to court decisions that have entered into force, whereas consulting unenforced and annulled decisions is not possible, ERR reports.
The same applies to public participation in civil and administrative court proceedings decision pronouncements.
Justice minister Maris Lauri (Reform) said that: "In accordance with the constitution, court proceedings must be made public, but the constitution reflects the situation which was the case when hearings and judgments were held in the courtroom and the decision was pronounced there."
"Today, most cases are heard in written proceedings, however, which are not accessible to the public. The bill aims to uphold the constitutional concept of a hearing being in public, while doing so in such a way that people are not put off going to court in order to protect their rights," Lauri added.
A judgment pertaining to a natural person who is a party to the proceedings will not be publicized in a court decision which has been disclosed via a computer network, except in the case of an accused or acquitted person whose names and personal identification codes are subject to full disclosure, under the terms of the bill.
A natural person participating in the proceedings will have the right to request the disclosure of his or her name, while an acquitted person has the right to request their name not be disclosed, if the law passes.
The bill provides for the publication on the Riigi Teataja website of court decisions that have not entered into force in all types of proceedings immediately after the court decision has been made public with the annotation "not entered into force".
When the decision takes effect or if it is revoked, the corresponding indication would change automatically, with the new status "effective" or "revoked" noted.
Court decisions published in civil disputes are still being cleaned of personal data, which means that the draft will not alter them, Viljar Peep, Undersecretary of Justice Administration Policy at the Ministry of Justice, said.
Peep said: "This is because the state has an obligation to ensure the protection of restricted data and privacy, and because people would be more likely to venture to go to court to protect their rights, while not having to worry about their personal data being made public online within the content of the dispute."
In addition to court judgments, some court rulings are subject to disclosure upon entry into force of the law, such as those on conditional release from prison, access to apartments and apartment blocks, access to public roads, the upstream of the land improvement system and tolerance of technical facilities.
In addition to the rulings of the circuit court and the Supreme Court terminating the proceedings without an action, the decision of the county court made in the same matter must also be disclosed.
The draft allows a person outside the proceedings to submit an application for access to a court file in a case discussed in closed proceedings in civil and administrative court proceedings and in a case terminated in criminal proceedings.
The non-procedural person must substantiate the request for access to the file.
A legitimate interest is presumed in the case of access to the file for journalistic purposes, but it is up to the court to decide whether a particular file or part of it is accessible to the journalist.
In the interests of justice, a court hearing may be broadcast online, at the initiative of the court.
Information on the transmission will be published on the website of the Riigi Teataja.
Viljar Peep explained that every judge must take into account the interests of the participants in the proceedings and the public interest in the administration of justice when allowing webcasting.
"The judge must assess the effect of the transfer on the interests of the parties to the proceedings and weigh it against the public interest. The judge may also decide that only audio is broadcast from the hearing or that only part of the hearing is made public," the deputy secretary added.
While acknowledging that some judges are more prone to interacting with the public than others, Peep noted that the importance of a webcast of a case is of paramount importance.
Webcasts are expected to remain exceptional in the coming years. So far, webcasts have taken place in a case before the Supreme Court concerning pension reform and the establishment of the European Stability Mechanism, i.e. in cases of exceptional public interest.
According to the plan of the Ministry of Justice, if the bill is approved by the Riigikogu, it should enter into force on August 1 2023
The bill must now go to the Riigikogu for voting and, if it passes, signing into force by the head of state.
Editor: Andrew Whyte