Former EDF commander suggests introduction of military court

Johannes Kert.
Johannes Kert. Source: Rene Suurkaev/ERR

Reform Party MP and former commander of the Estonian Defence Forces, Johannes Kert, would like the state to reintroduce a separate military court system. While Kert has the backing of his own fellow party members on the Riigikogu's National Defence Committee, neither the Ministry of Justice nor the chairman of the committee, former Defence Minister Hannes Hanso (SDE), support the idea.

The existence of a national defence court alone would increase discipline in the Estonian Defence Forces, Kert explained. "This is part of any military's readiness and culture, without which no national defence system is complete," he added.

Kert wouldn't stop with the introduction of a military court, but would also introduce a new system for the preparation and investigation of cases that would eventually reach it. In detail, Kert would like to see a dedicated department of the Office of the Prosecutor General as well as lawyers specialising in the related issues.

Kert: Lack of military court could cause problems during crisis

Potential problems caused by the absence of a military court could develop along the lines of Ukraine's experiences after the beginning of its war against the Russian-backed supposed separatists in the East of the country.

"In Ukraine the first problem was that the mobilisation [of its forces] was extremely chaotic, and the way the civil courts dealt with deserters and service evaders varied greatly," Kert told ERR's Vikerraadio. "Punishments ranged from fines to seven, eight-year prison sentences. The uneven application [of the law] and glacial speed of the courts caused a lot of confusion."

The resulting situation had been a cause for a lot of bad blood among the country's officers as well as in the population, as people weren't treated equally.

Judges would need to be familiar with military procedures

Though the judges of such a military court wouldn't necessarily need to be officers in the Defence Forces, they would certainly need military knowledge and preparation, Kert argued. The same would apply for the prosecutors involved in such cases.

Kert conceded that there is little sense in creating a separate court system within the jurisdiction of the Defence Ministry. Instead, a military court could be part of the existing system and belong into the competency area of the Justice Ministry.

Judges could switch between civil and military roles once they are prepared for the latter, Kert added.

Two additional reasons why a military court is needed are potential legal issues during mobilisation exercises as well as the need for peace time practice. Kert pointed out that in case of war, there would be no actual body of experience dealing with national defence issues in a legal context, which could lead to chaotic situations as well.

The idea is currently backed by the other ex-EDF commander in the Reform Party, MP Ants Laaneots, as well as MPs Madis Milling (Reform) and Ain Lutsepp (Free Party), but opposed by the Ministry of Justice as well asformer defence ministers, Margus Tsahkna (independent) and Hannes Hanso (SDE).

Ministry of Justice: Kert's idea "not sensible"

The ministry commented that introducing a special court for the military would not make sense at this point in time.

Deputy secretary-general for legal policy, Kai Härmand told ERR that a step-by-step specialisation of judges is already happening anyway. "We have judges who specialise in juvenile crime, or in intellectual property matters. We've approached military issues the same way. What matters here isn't to have a separate institution, but that we have people who get the necessary training, but at the same time are entirely regular judges," Härmand said.

"A judge doesn't need to be a medical doctor to decide in cases concerning the quality of drugs. Knowledge of these specific areas can be gained where needed by including specialists and experts," Härmand added.

Chairman of the National Defence Committee and former minister of defence, Hannes Hanso said that such a court isn't currently an issue at all. Margus Tsahkna, who was minister of defence in 2016 and 2017, said that Estonia doesn't need a military court in peace times, while introducing a military court that would be at work during wartime would make sense.

"It certainly makes sense to train a number of judges who would act as military judges during wartime, and who could take on this role during a crisis," Tsahkna said. This could contribute to faster and more effective procedures when needed.

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Editor: Dario Cavegn

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