Minister of Justice Laanet wants to end legal assistance treaty with Russia

Kalle Laanet.
Kalle Laanet. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

As Estonia has an active legal assistance and legal relationships in civil, family and criminal matters with Russia, Estonian courts will continue to process Russian court rulings. Minister of Justice Kalle Laanet (Reform) said that the agreement with Russia should be terminated.

The Harju County Court received 22 requests for legal assistance from the Russian judicial system in the past year.

"In addition to requests for decision recognition, there are requests for serving judgments," Judge Kai Härmand of the Harju District Court said, adding that these involve family matters, such as alimony, and financial claims between companies.

This does not imply that Estonian courts straightforwardly implement Russian court decisions. The Estonian court has the authority to determine if the Russian court adhered to the principles of a fair trial.

"It must be determined, in particular, whether the defendant was given the opportunity to participate in the proceedings in the first place: whether they were informed that proceedings had been initiated against them, and whether they were given enough time to respond. Courts have decided not to recognize and allow enforcement when the defendant's rights were not respected in the processes," Härmand said.

The enforcement of the treaty has been problematic in the opposite direction; Russia does not always enforce Estonian rulings.

"Similarly, when it comes to international service of court documents, Estonian courts rely on the actions of foreign courts. Unfortunately, we have to acknowledge that interacting with Russia was usually time-consuming. It continues to be a time-consuming endeavor now," Härmand said.

Laanet proposed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Estonia suspend the agreement with Russia regarding legal assistance, which was signed in Moscow in 1993.

"I learned about this legal assistance treaty a few days ago, and my opinion is unequivocal: we cannot have connections with an aggressive state. There are no economic, amicable or legal ties. We sent a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of last week inquiring about their position on this matter. Such an agreement, in my opinion, should be terminated as soon as possible," Laanet said.

As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for these agreements, the minister of foreign affairs should suggest to the government that the treaty be terminated. Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200) declined to comment.

Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), a former minister of justice and foreign affairs, is also in favor of terminating the legal assistance agreement with Russia and believes the Riigikogu could hold an extraordinary session to vote against it.

"If I were the minister of foreign affairs, the foreign policy assessment would be that it is prudent for us to keep as low as possible any interaction with the Russian Federation and I support the termination of this agreement," Reinsalu said.

"I think that, if necessary, the parliament can hold an additional or extraordinary session, and there are no impediments on our end. If the government chooses to renounce this agreement, we will certainly support this motion," Reinsalu added.

However, the termination of the legal assistance treaty with Russia would not prevent Estonian courts from recognizing Russian rulings, meaning that the situation would not change significantly.


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Editor: Mari Peegel, Kristina Kersa

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