Despite criticism from within the judicial field, Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (Pro Patria) does not consider it a problem that judges and prosecutors share a building in Tallinn or in other towns elsewhere in Estonia, daily Postimees said.
In an interview published in the paper on Monday, retired Harju County Court judge Leo Kunman said that he would not want to work in the new main courthouse in Tallinn, and feels pity for former colleagues forced to work in the same building as prosecutors.
"This is so biased toward the Prosecutor's Office now," Kunman said.
Reinsalu, however, said he did not understand Kunman's criticism.
"They are located separately there after all," the minister noted. "In a similar vein, we could exaggerate and say that detainees and witnesses are in the same building. If we say that there must be no settling of judicial matters outside of the judicial proceeding, then this is natural."
According to Reinsalu, it could also happen that the defence lawyer, the prosecutor and the judge in a case are all graduates from the same class of the legal faculty of the same university, but that cannot prevent them from fulfilling their respective functions.
"This issue has been raised from time to time, but I don't see a logical or sound connection in this matter," he added.
Estonian Bar Association chairman Hannes Vallikivi said that certain risks nevertheless exist.
"The direction taken by the state toward creating joint buildings for the prosecutor's office and the court entails a risk of increasing inequality," Vallikivi said. "In this way, the state is creating a physical environment conducive to more intense interaction between the court and one part to the proceeding and may create situations in which the balance of a judiciary proceeding leans more toward the state than the person."
Former Supreme Court of Estonia chairman Märt Rask was likewise critical of the arrangement that has become the reality in many Estonian towns.
Issue precedes completion of new Tallinn courthouse
Postimees first highlighted the problem five years ago, at which point Tartu already had a building jointly housing courts and the prosecutor's office but the recently completed courthouse in Tallinn was still in the design phase.
"I admit the mistake that in Tartu we put the prosecutor's office and first- and second-tier courts together in the same building," Rask said at a meeting of an advisory body on the administration of courts. "The mistake lies in the fact that pratice has evolved in Tartu Circuit Court according to which no questions are asked by prosecutors. The administration of justice functions in various ways, but with certain nuances. In Estonia, practices evolve with the creation of joint buildings where the administration of justice no longer is or appears objective."
Reinsalu disagreed, however, telling the paper that he believed these things looked proper.
Jurist and Reform MP Igor Gräzin found that courts and prosecutor's offices being housed under one roof illustrates the weakness of the Estonian justice system.
"This is an immense problem," said Gräzin. "One of them should move far away. By the way, the authority of the Supreme Court of Estonia is based on the fact that it is not located in Tallinn. In my opinion, this is a constitutional issue, and it should be solved immediately."
Editor: Aili Vahtla