Criminal procedure in Estonia to go fully digital ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Harju County Court.
Harju County Court. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Ministry of Justice has submitted for a new round of approval a bill revising criminal procedure to allow a full transition to digital procedure, eliminating duplicating activities in the gathering and formalizing of evidence and clarifying the role of the court during preliminary investigations.

"Criminal procedure must keep up with the times," Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) said. "It is clear that more and more procedures can be conducted paperless and digitally today in many areas of life. Criminal proceedings must also move in this direction, both in terms of the gathering of evidence and the keeping of files."

The wording of the law is to become more technology-neutral, and terms referring to the formalizing of paper documents will be removed. Also to be introduced is a general rule that a file is kept digitally in the e-file system, and that the exchange of information in criminal proceedings takes place primarily in digital form.

The bill is also to remove requirements that currently oblige bodies conducting proceedings to carry out duplication in formalizing evidence. This means that the requirements for recording procedural acts will be simplified.

"For example, the carrying out of audio and video recordings will be encouraged so that the recording will be considered part of the record," Aeg explained. "In the future, people will also be able to provide statements in a criminal procedure without physically coming to the bodies conducting the proceedings; modern solutions such as video hearings can be used instead."

Other changes to be introduced as well

A significant planned change is the widening of the range of alternative preventive measures alongside arrest in order to better guarantee people's fundamental rights, protect victims as well as reduce the burden on detention facilities.

On one hand, the regulation of preventive measures will be made more flexible. For example, several preventive measures, such as communication or movement restrictions, can be applied simultaneously, or a so-called free preventive measure, such as the obligation to be at home in the evenings in the case of minors, can be prescribed in order to keep an individual from committing a certain act.

On the other hand, several new types of preventive measures will be proposed as well, such as the restriction of movement — house arrest, restrictions on being in certain places or near someone, restrictions on leaving Estonia or the Schengen Area without permission, restrictions on communication and the obligation to do something, such as inform bodies conducting proceedings of a change of address or regularly checking one's email to ensure that contact is maintained with the bodies conducting proceedings.

The rules on temporary restraining orders will also be specified, electronic surveillance as a standalone preventive measure will be allowed, and types of preventive measures for hindering the avoidance of criminal liability of a legal person, such as a ban on liquidation during criminal proceedings, will be proposed.

A court's opportunities for the organization of its work during preliminary investigations will be simplified, and the terms of the preliminary investigation judge and the judge in charge of the execution of court judgments will be eliminated from the Code of Criminal Procedure. Who is entrusted with these functions in court will depend on the court's internal  organization. In the future, district courts will hear some appeals alone in lieu of the current three judges.

Opportunities for the body conducting proceedings not to initiate or terminate criminal proceedings in situations where there is no public interest will also be extended. For example, in some cases, pre-procedure reconciliation between the victim and the offender will be allowed. It will also be possible to dismiss the launching of criminal proceedings if the statute of limitations of a second-degree crime is in less than six months.

Involved in the drawing up of the bill revising criminal procedure was a working group led by Jaan Ginter, professor of criminology at the University of Tartu. The working group also included legal theory experts Anneli Soo, Andreas Kangr and Margus Kurm, as well as attorneys Martin Hirvoja and Jaanus Tehver.

The same amendments had been planned during the previous Riigikogu, but not enough time remained to discuss them prior to the 2019 general election.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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