Constitutional proceedings in Latvia
The idea on the necessity of an institution, which would protect the Satversme (the Constitution), was first expressed by the Member of the Saeima Pauls Šīmanis in 1930 in his Article “Eight Years of the Constitution of Latvia”. On 8 May 1934, furthering the above idea, the Member of the Saeima Hermanis Štegmanis submitted a motion to supplement the Constitution with Article 861, which envisaged establishment of a special State Court. However, this motion did not receive the required majority of votes.
At the time, when the independent and democratic State of Latvia was restored, the necessity of the Constitutional Court was not questioned. It was mentioned also in the Declaration of 4 May 1990 “On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia”, adopted by the Supreme Council. However, the Law “On Judicial Power” – adopted on 15 December 1992 – stated that a Constitutional Supervision Chamber within the body of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Latvia and not a special institution should be established. It was never done.
In 1993, after the Fifth Saeima commenced its activities, the government started elaborating the Draft Law on the Constitutional Court and in spring of 1994 submitted it to the Saeima. In June of 1994 the Saeima passed the Amendments to the Law “On Judicial Power”, providing for the establishment of an independent Constitutional Court, the activities of which would be regulated by the Constitutional Court Law. On 5 June 1994 the above Law, together with certain Amendments to Article 85 of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, was adopted. In accordance with it the Constitutional Court is an independent institution of judicial power, which within the jurisdiction set forth in the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia and the Constitutional Court Law, shall review cases concerning the compliance of laws and other legal norms with the Constitution, as well as other cases placed under its jurisdiction by law.
9 December 1996 can be considered to be the birthday of the Constitutional Court, when those four of the confirmed justices of the Constitutional Court, who had not worked as judges before, swore the oath of the justice
Competence of the Constitutional Court
In accordance with Article 16 of the Constitutional Court Law the Constitutional Court shall review cases regarding:
1) compliance of laws with the Constitution;
2) compliance with the Constitution of international agreements signed or entered into by Latvia (even before the Saeima has confirmed the agreement);
3) compliance of other regulatory enactments or parts thereof with the legal norms (acts) of higher force;
4) compliance of other acts (with an exception of administrative acts) by the Saeima, the Cabinet of Ministers, the President, the Speaker of the Saeima and Prime Minister with the law;
5) compliance of Regulations, by which a Minister, authorised by the Cabinet of Ministers, has suspended binding regulations issued by a Local Government Council, with the law;
6) compliance of the national legal norms of Latvia with the international agreements entered into by Latvia, which are not incompatible with the Constitution.
The Right to Apply to the Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court has not been granted the right to initiating cases upon its own initiative. It reviews cases only after receiving claims by a certain range of persons provided for by law. Up to 2001 the following persons or institutions had the right to submit an application to initiate a case: the State President, the Saeima, not less than twenty members of the Saeima, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Plenary Session of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General, the State Audit Office, the State Human Rights Bureau, a Local Government Council, a Minister, authorized by the Cabinet of Ministers.
The amendments to the Constitutional Court Law of 30 November 2000 noticeably enlarged the range of persons, who have the right to submit an application to the Constitutional Court. At present the Law envisages that in addition to the State President, the Saeima, at least twenty members of the Saeima, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Prosecutor General, the State Audit Office, the Ombudsman, the Local Government Council, also courts of general jurisdiction, when reviewing civil, criminal or administrative case, a judge of the Land Book Registry when entering real estate – or corroboratint the title to it – in the Land Book, as well as any natural or legal person, whose fundamental rights, set out in the Constitution, have been violated, may submit a claim to the Constitutional Court.
Since 2011 the Judicial Council has the right to apply to the Constitutional Court in the framework of jurisdiction established by law.
The Procedure of the Constitutional Court
The entire body of the Constitutional Court shall review matters: on compliance of laws with the Constitution; on compliance of other acts of the Saeima, the Cabinet, the President, the Speaker of the Saeima and the Prime Minister, except for administrative acts, with the law; on compliance of Latvian national legal norms with those international agreements entered into by Latvia that are not in conflict with the Constitution; on compliance of regulatory enactments of the Cabinet with the Constitution and other laws; on compliance of international agreements signed or entered into by Latvia (also until the confirmation of the relevant agreements in the Saeima) with the Constitution. All other matters are adjudicated by three justices of the Constitutional Court, unless the Constitutional Court has ruled otherwise.
If the entire Constitutional Court reviews a case, it shall include all the justices of the Constitutional Court, who are not excused from participating in the court session because of health or other objective reasons. In this case there shall be at least five justices of the Constitutional Court. The session shall be chaired by the President of the Constitutional Court or his / her Deputy.
A justice of the Constitutional Court may not refuse to participate in the Court session.
Since 2001 in cases when the documents attached to the matter suffice, it is possible to hold Court proceedings in writing, without the parties to the case attending the Court session.
The judgment shall be delivered not later than 30 days after the Constitutional Court sitting. The judgment shall be reached by a majority vote. The justices may vote only “for” or “against”. In the event of a tied vote the Court shall reach a judgment that the challenged legal norm (act) complies with the legal norm of higher force.
A justice, who has voted against the opinion given in the judgment, shall present his / her dissenting opinion in writing, which is attached to the case file, but is not announced at the Court session.
The Constitutional Court judgment is final. It shall come into legal effect at the time of its announcement. The judgment, as well as the interpretation of the relevant legal norm is binding on all state and municipal institutions, offices and officials, including courts as well as natural and legal persons.
Any legal norm, which the Constitutional Court has declared as incompatible with the legal norm of higher force shall be considered invalid as of the date of publishing the judgment of the Constitutional Court, unless the Constitutional Court has ruled otherwise. If the Constitutional Court has declared any international agreement signed or entered into by Latvia as incompatible with the Constitution, the Cabinet of Ministers is immediately obliged to see to it that the agreement is amended, denounced, suspended or the accession to that agreement is retracted.
The judgment of the Constitutional Court shall be published in the newspaper “Latvijas Vēstnesis” not later than within five days of being delivered.