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Chief justice: Riigikogu still has legal acts to align with EU law

Chief Justice Priit Pikamäe.
Chief Justice Priit Pikamäe. Source: (Riigikogu)

Chief Justice Priit Pikamäe said speaking to the Riigikogu on Thursday that the parliament needed to deal with problems connected to prisoners' voting rights, as well as their right to access the Internet.

According to § 58 of the Estonian Constitution, the right to vote of citizens can be limited if they have been found guilty of a crime by a court and are serving prison sentences.

Pikamäe pointed out that the issue was currently regulated in such a way that prisoners couldn't participate in local, national, and European elections. Though there were small nuances in the way they were phrased, all of the laws regulating the three levels of elections currently excluded prisoners.

Though he didn't question the constitutionality of these provisions, there was the necessity to consider norms with which Estonia had associated itself. In particular, considering Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, automatically excluding all prisoners from elections was not proportional, Pikamäe told the Riigikogu.

The chief justice said that the Supreme Court's constitutional review chamber had pointed out to the Riigikogu on several occasions that because of this, norms that absolutely excluded the participation of prisoners in elections may not be constitutional.
“Keeping in mind that the next Riigikogu elections are taking place in spring 2019, now is the right time to discuss solving these questions,” Pikamäe said.

Different from other member states of the European Union that barred prisoners from voting in elections, Estonia had a constitution the wording of which actually allowed a change without having to amend it.

Imprisonment Act needs to be dealt with quickly

According to Pikamäe, a decision by the European Human Rights Court of Jan. 19 last year makes it necessary to change Estonia's Imprisonment Act, as the current law violates Article 10 of the European human rights convention.

The part of the law in question dealt with prisoners' access to certain websites, in particular those of the Riigikogu and the chancellor of justice, Pikamäe said.

Current law forbids prisoners the use of the Internet, except for databases of legal acts and judicial decisions. Though the Supreme Court found this decision to be constitutional in a 2009 decision, the European Human Rights Court ruled on Jan. 19, 2016 that Estonia was unnecessarily limiting prisoners' access to the website of the Riigikogu and the chancellor of justice.

According to the court's explanations of the decision, though Article 10 of the convention did not demand that EU member states grant prisoners access to the Internet, on the basis of Estonian law they did have this right to a certain extent, which was why the limitation of prisoners' access to the websites of the chancellor of justice and the national parliament was not justified, Pikamäe explained.

“At the time of this speech, a year and a half after the according decision of the European Human Rights Court, the provision of the Imprisonment Act concerned is still in effect unchanged form,” Pikamäe said, adding that he did not know of a bill to change this situation either.

This meant that the Imprisonment Act still needed to be brought in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, the chief justice added.

To avoid a situation in which this issue needed to be solved website by website, Pikamäe suggested the Riigikogu looked at Internet access for prisoners as a whole. An eventual solution couldn't disregard security considerations. Granting prisoners access to the Internet could not be allowed to lead to more crimes committed, or to exposing wherever a prisoner was held to security risks.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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