Ex-prosecutor general: Law needs changing to head off delay tactics

Lavly Perling.
Lavly Perling. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

A legal change is needed in order to head of procrastination tactics of the kind seen recently with the Port of Tallinn (Tallinna Sadam) corruption case, former Prosecutor General Lavly Perling says.

Perling told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Tuesday that she considers it wrong that the case, which began in 2019, was wound back to the beginning.

This happened last week on a technicality – a lay judge (Rahvakohtunik) had withdrawn from the case, citing illness. This has brought the entire practice of using lay judges in criminal cases – they are not used in civil cases – under scrutiny.

Perling told AK that there was scope within criminal proceedings to make processes faster and more efficient.

She said: "I am certainly not pointing the finger at the courts; you can always say that a court has to establish itself; whether there were enough lay judges to spare – definitely within a process of this size one or two won't help, there would need to be more – I think that the first question lies within the framework, in other word, in the law."

"So long as it is possible for defendants to drag out a process as long as they want to do so, I would venture say sometimes with absurd requests, they will do that," the former prosecutor went on.

The case dates back to 2015, with litigation beginning in 2019, AK reported.

How much longer will be needed largely depends on how many materials from the previous proceedings can be utilized in the restarted hearings. 

State Prosecutor told AK he thinks that there may be further delays.

"There were signals at today's hearing that the defendants are likely to request re-examination of some evidence, possibly personal evidence. We believe that such requests can also be submitted in the context of their own evidence gathering," he told AK.

As to the lay judge who stepped down, prosecutor in the case Denis Tšasovskih said this could have been "connected with fear", but also due to "the secret desire on the part of the defense counsel to choose more suitable judges, which cannot be considered right."

Lavly Perling stated a belief that if all parties were to make the required effort, it would be possible to reach a decision quickly.

"As a person, as a citizen, once as prosecutor, and today as a politician, I expect justice and clarity from criminal proceedings. If such frivolous requests are simply prolonging a process, this will not help with that," Perling, who is leader of the Parempoolsed party which recently contested its first ever elections, continued.

A new lay judge was appointed to the case from Tuesday; defense lawyers filed a motion to remove this individual and also a reserve judge (Varukohtunik).

Paul Keres, counsel for one of the defendants, Ain Kaljurand, said that the pre-existing nature of the case meant that any new lay judge would be influenced by what had gone on before in the case and had formulated their own opinion on it in advance.

The first-tier Harju County Court will announce its opinion on the request to remove the new lay judge on Thursday morning.

While Estonia, like most continental European countries, does not make use of a jury system as employed by, for instance, the U.S. and the U.K. However, lay judges, members of the public, are used in criminal hearings.

Given the large amount of time sometimes needed to devote to a case, and the relatively low pay (€4.30 per hour is the reported figure) the post tends not to attract younger people or professionals, it has been reported.

Lavly Perling was prosecutor general 2014-2020.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera, interviewer: Veronika Uibo.

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