In addition to its suggested changes regarding the office of the President of the Republic, the Foundation for State Reform, a think tank launched this May by a group of businessmen, has recommended turning the position of Chancellor of Justice into that of a typical ombudsman, or public advocate, among other changes.
The Foundation for State Reform has proposed the establishment of a permanent and independent Constitutional Chamber within the Supreme Court of Estonia as well as introduce the institution of individual complaints to the Constitutional jurisdiction.
Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise told ERR, however, that Estonia's system of constitutional review has proven itself well, and that there would not be a big enough workload to justify separate constitutional judges.
"Currently we don't know of any constitutional review-related concerns that have gone unchecked," she said. "In lieu of making a well-functioning system more expensive and complicated, it would be better worth finding extra funding for police and the court system."
The state reform think tank has also recommended turning the position of Chancellor of Justice into that of a typical ombudsman, or public advocate, and finds that the name and competences of the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner should be integrated with the authority of the Chancellor of Justice as the Equality Ombudsman. They also believe that the Chancellor of Justice should not be allowed to participate in government and cabinet meetings, as doing so calls into question the independence of the Chancellor of Justice.
Madise commented that the institution of the Chancellor of Justice has likewise proven itself well, and is an exceptionally good solution compared to systems in other countries. "The duties of a number of officials, including ombudsman, have been combined in Estonia into one strong institution," she said, noting that it is reasonable that where Finland and Sweden have separate chancellors of justice and ombudsmen, in Estonia the roles have been combined into one office.
"The Chancellor of Justice helps people for free, all the way up to the Supreme Court if needed," she said. "If we cannot help, then we explain honestly why not. Other countries' practices show that constitutional courts reject most complaints for no substantive reason. If no lawyer is needed to turn to the Chancellor of Justice, it evidently is when going straight to the Supreme Court."
Madise also said that the independence of the Chancellor of Justice does not depend on whether or not they participate in government meetings. "This is an effective means of preventing the violation of people's rights and gather information necessary for my work," she said. "This in no way restricts the independence of the Chancellor of Justice — or that of the government's either. The Chancellor of Justice does not get involved in politics."
Based on her experience in the position, which she took up in 2015, Madise confirmed that the work of the Chancellor of Justice has been understood by the governments of both Taavi Rõivas (Reform) and Jüri Ratas (Centre) despite the fact that she has had to contest the initiatives of both.
She noted that she is able to quickly raise concerns regarding issues that come up, and that ministers take her comments into consideration. "In cooperation with the government and the Riigikogu we have been successful in resolving a number of issues very quickly or preventing them without any great clamour," she explained.
Reform the judiciary
Regarding Estonia's judiciary system, the Foundation for State Reform has recommended institutionalising a Court Administration Council as a body which decides and organises the administration of the courts as well as serves as a centre for developing judiciary policy, as well as hand off to the council the Ministry of Justice's current duties related to the service, human resources management and budgeting thereof.
The think tank also found that the Court Administration Council should be headed by a fixed-term leader appointed by the Riigikogu and operate based on statutes approved by the Constitutional Committee of the Riigikogu. The Court Administration Council would consist of representatives of the judiciary and the public, including representatives of the Riigikogu and the executive.
Foundation for State Reform
The Foundation for State Reform was founded in May 2018 by 28 well-known Estonian entrepreneurs and businessmen. The think tank comes with a predefined lifespan of a year and the aim to come up with a concept for comprehensive state reform as well as an outline of the necessary legal changes, to be submitted to the Riigikogu as well as the political parties.
Core points of the Foundation of State Reform's 14 May manifesto include slashing the number of state officials in half, reducing the number of ministries, increasing the size of local government to that of the counties (ie drastically reduce the number of the only recently reformed local governments), shrinking the Riigikogu by 10 to 20 mandates, applying the instrument of public consultations and votes more broadly, giving the president one instead of two terms, making the courts independent from the Ministry of Justice, reducing the body of laws by 25% as well as attaching the office of the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner to that of the Chancellor of Justice.
Though the foundation never expressed any interest in actually starting a political party, their suggestions will doubtlessly make it into the upcoming hot phase of the campaign ahead of the 2019 Riigikogu elections to be held on 3 March.
The board of the Foundation for State Reform includes Jüri Käo, Olari Taal and Rait Maruste. Members of the think tank's council include Aivo Adamson, Alar Karis, David Vseviov, Jaak Aaviksoo, Jaan Puusaag, Jüri Raidla, Kristi Liiva, Marek Helm, Raivo Vare, Riina Varts, Ringa Raudla, Tarmo Jüristo, Toomas Tamsar, Tiit Pruuli, Urmas Varblane and Viljar Arakas.
Editor: Aili Vahtla