At today’s sitting, the Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise gave the Riigikogu an overview of her activities in 2020–2021. She acknowledged the Riigikogu for the legislative amendments that had helped solve people’s problems.
At the beginning of her report, Ülle Madise pointed out that, over the year, the Chancellor of Justice had received a total of over 5000 appeals, complaints and petitions of various kind, over 3000 of which had needed a substantial solution. In the words of the Chancellor of Justice, the amount of her work had increased by one fifth over the year, and in six years, the amount of work has actually doubled. “As always, wherever we can, we try to help the fellow citizens who entrust their worries to us, and we use the shortest legitimate way for this,” Madise confirmed. She added that cooperation had been key to solving the problems of the people and avoiding situations where people feel that their country does not care for them.
In Madise’s words, it was necessary to have the common goal to make Estonia the best place to live. At the same time, this means that life must always be in line with the Constitution that stipulates our freedom, responsibility and good sense, and even one person who gets caught in the middle is one too many.
Madise thanked the Riigikogu for making amendments to the legislative provisions that had been source of unfair treatment of people. She mentioned as examples that psychiatric care had become available to young people, safety in schoolchildren’s tour buses had improved, and victims of misdemeanours had been given more rights.
As a new phenomenon, the Chancellor of Justice had noticed duties and fees imposed subjectively. She gave the example that, in return for the adoption of a detailed spatial plan, in some rural municipalities, a certain amount must be paid as a social infrastructure fee to the local budget, or as a fee to the local community for tolerating a factory. “This may be totally justified in itself,” Madise said. “However, this is where the Riigikogu should create the possibility to pay a relevant local tax or duty.”
Madise said that requesting legality was not pointless nit-picking. “Only the rule of law creates the preconditions for us having a healthy and reliable economic environment, and in the same way it creates a precondition for people feeling secure,” the Chancellor of Justice said. In her words, systemic errors had been successfully corrected in a number of cases. As an example, she mentioned a guideline on the opening of packages in customs.
Madise noted that the Chancellor of Justice was also in charge of supervising and promoting the respect for the rights of disabled people. In her words, all buildings and the public space should be safe and accessible to everyone who has difficulties to move around, and in her opinion, there are indeed positive developments in this sphere. For example, the new procurements for buses are made to procure low-floor buses. People with a hearing loss can benefit from the subtitle software developed at Tallinn University of Technology, which quickly converts speech into subtitles, and the first audio described film has been released, keeping in mind people with a visual impairment. At the same time, on the negative side, the visually impaired had been forgotten again when the registration for vaccination had begun.
In Madise’s words, the work of the Chancellor of Justice also includes inspection visits to psychiatric hospitals, prisons and care homes. The situation has been improving step by step over the years, but many things are still amiss. She pointed out the problems such as the shortage of staff in care homes, the very low salary level, and the lack of required training.
Madise said that prisons were continuing the unacceptable practice where children who came to visit their parents were being stripped for searching, which was a blatant violation of international principles, a violation of the Estonian Constitution, and totally unacceptable.
Madise recalled that, in the previous year, she had often had to explain that, even in times of the greatest crisis, the Chancellor of Justice must be guided by the Constitution and laws. “Even in time of pandemic, according to our Constitution, restrictions and deprivation of liberty must be justified, and not the other way round,” Madise said. In her words, simple solutions tend to come to mind quickly particularly in time of pandemic, and particularly in such times people tend to demand “an iron hand” and violation of the fundamental rights.
“The legal science is not and must not be formal study of the provisions,” Madise said. “When assessing the constitutionality of the restrictions of fundamental rights, it is always necessary first to establish the facts, to ascertain the circumstances of life, to study the research results of various spheres, and to involve experts in other fields. And then logical argumentation will lead to an assessment on the constitutionality of one or the other decision.”
Madise emphasised that, according to the Constitution, the Riigikogu runs the country. Unfortunately, the Chancellor of Justice is seeing in her work that the framework in which the businesses should operate under the conditions of free competition is provided not so much by Acts as by regulations of ministers, or guidelines, which does not guarantee a good economic environment. “This would be unconstitutional in any case, because, according to the Estonian Constitution, the Riigikogu must decide all significant issues,” the Chancellor of Justice said. “I have noticed on several occasions that undertakings would also like the provisions defining the conditions of competition to be omitted from Acts. Possibly with very good intentions, but there may be a tinge of lobbyism behind this as well.”
In Madise’s words, decisions that have a national impact, concern all people and restrict fundamental rights must be made by the Riigikogu. “This ensures that a public debate is held and the life experience of the 101 members of the Riigikogu is reflected in the decision that is made, and that there is constitutional review,” she said.
To conclude her report, the Chancellor of Justice spoke of the rights of children and young people in relation to local elections. “Children and young people are expecting the new municipal councils most of all to create places where they could be together, be safe and speak to each other,” Madise referred to a poll that had been carried out. “It was a very big wish of young people that their needs be noticed and that they have places to be together.”
In Madise’s words, campaigns for local elections can be carried out in youth centres and schools, because 16 and 17-year-olds have the right to vote, but there is a simple line to be drawn: “Schools and youth centres must not become the election bases of any political party.”
The Chancellor of Justice also answered questions from members of the Riigikogu.
During the debate, Marek Jürgenson (Centre Party), Lauri Läänemets (Social Democratic Party), Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), Peeter Ernits (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) and Toomas Kivimägi (Reform Party) took the floor on behalf of their factions.
The annual review of the Chancellor of Justice is available here (in Estonian).
Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian)
Photos (Author: (Erik Peinar, Chancellery of the Riigikogu)
The video recording of the sitting will be available on the Riigikogu YouTube channel.
(Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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