At today's sitting, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Priit Pikamäe gave to the Riigikogu an overview of courts administration and administration of justice. His report focused on the changes to the judicial system arising from the state reform.
“Similarly to other spheres of our statehood, the judicial system will inevitably have to adapt to the new circumstances by reorganising itself to the necessary extent,” Pikamäe said.
Pikamäe said that our courts ensure the functioning of Estonia as a state based on the rule of law, and the administration of justice functioning through the courts is at the top level. “We have the best system of administration of justice that can be achieved with the budget funds allocated for that. In view of the above, I am not of the opinion that the judicial system will need a radical reorganisation within the framework of the governance reform,” Pikamäe said. He added that the administration of justice is positively conservative in essence, and any changes in this sphere must be thoroughly considered in every aspect.
Pikamäe explained that, when determining the location of courts and courthouses, attention must be paid also to the decrease and relocation of the Estonian population. “The right to obtain judicial protection is one of the most basic fundamental rights under § 15 of the Constitution. Developing a judicial network that creates unreasonable obstacles to having recourse to court definitely constitutes a significant infringement of this fundamental right as well as other fundamental rights concerning court hearing,” Pikamäe noted. “The larger the number of court actions arising from a particular area of life, the more easily available in terms of distances must also be the judicial system.”
In Pikamäe’s opinion, it is vital that, before the number of civil servants is reduced in the judicial system, the volume of the additional functions performed by this sphere be critically reviewed. “It will have to be decided which issues will definitely have to remain in the competence of the courts. Since the number of people who have recourse to court is not controllable from outside, the workload of the court system can only be reduced as a result of a revision of the current obligations imposed on courts,” Pikamäe said. He explained that the revision may include for example the creation of new proceedings, that would be alternative to court hearing, next to the existing ones; a decisive re-evaluation of the possibilities for appeal; or a change of the current procedure for the movement of court cases between different instances. In Pikamäe’s words, it may also be considered whether a complex of functions should be transferred outside the judicial system in issues that are not directly related to the administration of justice.
In the opinion of Kalle Laanet, who took the floor on behalf of the Reform Party Faction during the debate, the further enhancement of the judicial system cannot go too far because the right of a person to obtain judicial protection must not be impaired. “At the same time, if the demographic situation has changed, the judicial network will have to keep abreast of it. To ascertain this, a relevant analysis will have to be conducted, and conclusions will have to be drawn on the basis of it, and rearrangements will have to be made where necessary,” Laanet said.
Laanet agreed with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that it should be considered whether to transfer to the executive power the functions of the court that are not directly related to the administration of justice. He pointed out as examples the making of court decisions enforceable in criminal matters, and registration departments. In Laanet’s words, the limits of the right of appeal should also be reviewed.
Andres Anvelt, who took the floor on behalf of the Social Democratic Party Faction, stressed that the boundaries of the rearrangements in the judicial system will have to be seriously analysed and considered. Anvelt said that the trend of regarding judges as public servants of our public administration was making him cautious. “It should definitely not be like that. We have to understand that every judge is actually constitutionally vested with the fullness of a branch of state power,” Anvelt said.
Anvelt agreed to the idea of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that a functioning and correct judicial system is not only a benefit of the rule of law but also a very important development factor in terms of economy. In his words, investments of “dirty money” can be avoided through the judicial system.
Anvelt also attached importance to the role of judges outside the courtroom. In his opinion, judges should explain complicated legal language in everyday language understandable to the people.
The Riigikogu passed an Act:
The Riigikogu approved the Act on Amendments to an Act to Implement the Building Code and the Planning Act which postpones the transfer to the professions system until 31 December next year in the fields of design work, expert assessment of building design documentation, site investigations, audits of construction works and owner supervision. In the field of architectural design, an exception was made that extended the transfer to the proving of competence with a professional certificate until 31 December this year.
The Act on Amendments to an Act to Implement the Building Code and the Planning Act (238 SE) was initiated by the Government. 52 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Act, 27 voted against, and there were 3 abstentions.
Under the current Act to Implement the Building Code and the Planning Act, persons who have not acquired a relevant profession will not be able to prove their competence in the fields of design work, site investigations, owner supervision, and expert assessment of building design documentation and construction works as of 1 July this year. The Economic Affairs Committee had initiated an amendment of the Act because the length of the transitional period was not sufficient. Today, about 75 per cent of the businesses and competent persons in the field of construction whom the transition concerns would not have the right to continue their activities starting from 1 July.
Mihhail Korb, who took the floor on behalf of the Centre Party faction in the debate, said that the Centre Party Faction does not support the Bill because there are no arguments to extend the transition period.
One Bill passed the second reading in the Riigikogu:
The Foresight Monitoring Bill (239 SE), initiated by the Economic Affairs Committee, provides for the establishment of the Foresight Monitoring Centre at the Chancellery of the Riigikogu for conducting foresight activities. The Centre will prepare analyses of long-term social developments and development scenarios, distinguishing the possibilities opening to the society, and potential risks. The Centre will also monitor the implementation of the development scenarios.
The purpose of the Bill is to ensure the performing of research-based and high quality analyses, studies and other activities necessary for understanding the long-term developments in Estonia, identifying potential risks and opportunities, and assessing different versions of activities.
The Bill also deals with reorganising the investment activities of the Estonian Development Fund (Eesti Arengufond). Due to that, the Bill contains the necessary amendments to the Estonian Development Fund Act and the Support of Enterprise and State Loan Guarantees Act. More specifically, the activities of the Estonian Development Fund will be terminated, and the Estonian Development Fund Act will be definitively repealed on 1 July 2017. An important impact of the Bill will be that the investment activities of the state in the field of venture capital will be brought under the executive power. “AS SmartCap”, an arm of the Development Fund, will be transferred to the KredEx Fund together with rights, obligations, and the investment capital of the Development Fund.
The motions to amend the Bill mainly concerned the specification of the closing down of the Development Fund and the transfer of the investment activity to the KredEx Fund.
Member of the Economic Affairs Committee Maris Lauri said that the Bill had been amended by adding the regulation concerning the redistribution of unused state budget funds allocated for foresight activities. “According to it, in the second half of the year, the Foresight Monitoring Centre will receive 200 000 euro, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications will receive 50 000 euro for funding smart specialisation,” Lauri said.
Erki Savisaar, Krista Aru, Ken-Marti Vaher, Maris Lauri and Jaanus Marrandi took the floor during the debate.
Erki Savisaar did not support the establishment of the Foresight Monitoring Centre at the Chancellery of the Riigikogu and, on behalf of the Estonian Centre Party Faction, moved to suspend the second reading of the Bill.
Krista Aru supported the establishment of the Foresight Monitoring Centre at the Riigikogu. In Aru’s opinion, more radical changes will have to be made and courage will have to be taken to rearrange things.
Ken-Marti Vaher said that the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction supports the conclusion of the second reading of the Bill and the passage of the Bill before the Midsummer Day.
Maris Lauri said that the Development Fund had failed to do what was expected of it regarding monitoring. Lauri called on to cooperate and to establish the Foresight Monitoring Centre at the Riigikogu.
Jaanus Marrandi said that today it is reasonable for the Riigikogu to go on with the part of the Development Fund that pertains to foresight monitoring. “We have to admit that the Economic Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu and the Riigikogu as a whole have not set very clear objectives for the Development Fund, and have not required compliance with them. If no objectives have been set, compliance with them cannot be required. It has been a deficiency in our work,” Marrandi said.
The motion of the Centre Party Faction to suspend the second reading of the Bill was not supported, as 18 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of it and 51 voted against, and there was one abstention.
The Riigikogu rejected one Bill:
The Bill on Amendments to the Social Tax Act (214 SE), initiated by the Estonian Free Party Faction, is intended to establish an upper limit to the social tax in order to significantly facilitate high-salaried top-specialists remaining in Estonia and coming here, as well as creation of new higher-salary and knowledge-based jobs. The establishment of a favourable tax environment for top specialists is intended to create motivation in the competition between countries so that high-salary jobs would be brought to Estonia or remain here.
Andres Ammas, who presented the Bill, said that the Bill will significantly change the tax burden of productive jobs. He said that this is intended to give a clear signal to businesses and investors that progressive and well-considered economic activities are valued in Estonia.
The Chairman of the Finance Committee Remo Holsmer said the Finance Committee does not support the Bill. Six members of the Finance Committee had been in favour of rejection and four had been against. “The Finance Committee and the Government do not contest the objective to facilitate the emergence of high-salary jobs in Estonia. The question is, what is the wisest and the most reasonable way to do it,” Holsmer said.
Andres Herkel, who took the floor on behalf of the Free Party Faction in the debate, said that steps will have to be taken to meet the wishes of undertakings and to set a ceiling for the social tax.
The result of voting: 36 members of the Riigikogu in favour, 8 against, and 2 abstentions. Thus the Bill is dropped from the proceedings.
The deliberation of a draft Resolution was adjourned in the Riigikogu due to the end of the working hours:
The Draft Resolution of the Riigikogu “Making a Proposal to the Government of the Republic in connection with Elimination of the Minimum Rate of Social Tax” (227 OE), submitted by the Estonian Free Party Faction, will make a proposal to the Government to develop a regulation that will allow to eliminate the mandatory minimum rate of social tax and to implement hour-based salary calculation.
The deliberation will be resumed in the next working week.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
(NB! The recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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