International conference dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia “Judicial Activism of Constitutional Courts in a Democratic State”, organised by the Constitutional Court and the Council of Europe Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission)
President of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia
Riga, 26 May 2016
Highly Esteemed President of the State,
Honourable Chairman of the Council for the Judiciary,
Honourable Presidents of courts and judges,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have the great honour and genuine pleasure to address you at the conference dedicated to the twenty years of work by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia.
Establishment of the Constitutional Court was not an easy process. Following lengthy discussions and serious work in 1996 amendments were introduced to the Satversme [Constitution] – one of the oldest constitutions in Europe, which has been in force since 1992. From the vantage point of the Satversme, the changes to Article 85 of the Satversme should be recognised as the most significant institutional innovation in the constitutional system.
Likewise, in 1996 the Constitutional Court Law was adopted and the Constitutional Court set to work.
Today we can speak about several periods in the work of the Constitutional Court. I shall try to outline them briefly.
The first period – from 1996 to 2001. This was the time, when the Constitutional Court: formed as an independent institution; established contacts with other European constitutional courts and began studying and adopting their practices; embodied in the Rules of Procedure of the Constitutional Court and tested in practice the legal proceedings before the Constitutional Court as a separate type of legal proceedings; pronounced a number of judgements that proved the ability of the Constitutional Court both to resolve disputes of principal constitutional importance and to adjudicate politically sensitive cases.However, the most important thing was the fact that the Constitutional Court by its first rulings inspired Latvian lawyers to change their legal thinking and to adopt an understanding of law and methods of
However, the most important thing was the fact that the Constitutional Court by its first rulings inspired Latvian lawyers to change their legal thinking and to adopt an understanding of law and methods of application complying with standards of the Western legal systems.
The second period – from 2001, when amendments to the Constitutional Court Law with respect to the individual constitutional complaint entered into force, until 2009. This is the period when the Constitutional Court shaped and developed the methodology for interpreting the Satversme and interpreted the content of Chapter VIII of the Satversme (Fundamental Human Rights). The cases reviewed by the Constitutional Court during this period laid the foundation for the understanding of these legal issues that is still used today and will remain useful also in the future.
For example, the Constitutional Court already in 2001 pointed out the link between the Latvian language and the existence and development of the Latvian nation, noting that restricting the use of the Latvian language as the official language within the territory of the state should be regarded as a threat to the democratic state order.
The so-called Border Treaty Case should be mentioned as the second example. This is a case of 2007 with respect to the state border between Latvia and Russia, in which the Constitutional Court elaborated the principle of the continuity of the State of Latvia enshrined in the Declaration on Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Latvia and defined its significant place in the Latvian constitutional law.
Another example pertains to a case examined in 2009 in which the Constitutional Court analysed the compliance of the Lisbon Treaty with the Satversme and noted that Latvia’s integration into the European Union did not violate the principle of the sovereignty of people. Transferring of some competencies to the EU should not be perceived as a weakening of the sovereignty, but rather as using it to reach the aims defined in the EU treaties that are not incompatible with the values and interests enshrined in the Satversme.
This is also the period that outlined the dialogue between the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights and the importance thereof in the case-law of both Courts.
The third period – from 2009 to 2013. This period is most of all associated with the so-called “crisis cases”. In the period that was difficult for the state when the Parliament had to adopt complicated “laws of the times of crisis” which were unfavourable to people, the Constitutional Court turned into something similar to a lightning rod, which had to absorb both unfounded and, regretfully, well-founded negative emotions coming from most diverse layers and groups of society.
This was the time when the Constitutional Court dealt with the problems of decreased pensions, issues related to decrease in judges’ salaries, and with other crisis cases.
During this period, notwithstanding the situation of crisis, the Constitutional Court was able to engage in a preparatory work of a long-term importance, which today allows us to ensure the work of the court in a better quality, by making an efficient use of the Court’s well-educated and capable human resources.
The time of festivities is the right moment for thanking everybody who has contributed to the Constitutional Court’s becoming an institution which enjoys public trust and respect. My thanks go the former justices, employees and presidents of the Constitutional Court. We thank you for the generous contribution of your energy and knowledge.At the same time I would like to say that we cannot stop at these achievements. Therefore I shall now speak about a provisional fourth period in the work of the Constitutional Court – from 2014 until the present.
At the same time I would like to say that we cannot stop at these achievements. Therefore I shall now speak about a provisional fourth period in the work of the Constitutional Court – from 2014 until the present.
We evaluate the possibilities for development and work on them in a targeted way, a proof to which is the intensive work to develop our international relations, as well as to improve the work and governance of the Constitutional Court.
The first President of the Constitutional Court, Mr Endziņš, in his speech at the conference dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the Constitutional Court pointed to a number of problems that still had to be solved. It is a pleasure to find that some of them have been eliminated. However, some issues remain that need to be solved in the nearest future.Regretfully, the issue of state-provided legal assistance in cases where a person wants to submit an application to the Constitutional Court for the protection of his or her fundamental rights remains unsolved, as it was 10 years ago.
Regretfully, the issue of state-provided legal assistance in cases where a person wants to submit an application to the Constitutional Court for the protection of his or her fundamental rights remains unsolved, as it was 10 years ago.
Although a person’s right to a fair trial is ensured at the Constitutional Court, the legal proceedings at the Constitutional Court might benefit from some improvements. The Court’s own resources should be used effectively to resolve this issue, and successful cooperation with the legislator should be facilitated.
The issue of the status of the judges of the Constitutional Court remains topical, i.e., the issue of their social guarantees and the expedient use of the capacities of the former judges for the benefit of the state. It is important to identify, support and use this resource, rich in knowledge and experience, in the national interests.
Honourable colleagues, the issues that I have listed are our national problems that we must resolve ourselves.
However, the greatest challenge is linked to the fact that the Constitutional Court, similarly to constitutional courts of other European states, works in the circumstances of further European integration, globalisation and diverse crises. These challenges cannot be solved locally.
On the one hand, we are open to the European law and a close cooperation between the member states. On the other hand, it is clear that the Satversme sets limits to this integration to safeguard the national constitutional identity. I can say with great satisfaction that until now there have been no major differences in opinions of the European courts and constitutional courts; moreover, the procedure that requires that legal issues are first of all scrutinised at the national level creates trust among the inhabitants of the member states that both the national constitutional identity will be safeguarded and common European values will be protected.Now, perhaps more than ever before, we talk about the importance of retaining a united Europe. United, because we are united by our shared values, shared aims, similar challenges and shared
Now, perhaps more than ever before, we talk about the importance of retaining a united Europe. United, because we are united by our shared values, shared aims, similar challenges and shared search for solutions.
In view of the conditions of migration and security crisis, solutions must be sought also with respect to such important issue as balancing the national security and fundamental human rights. What are the restrictions upon human rights that we today consider as being proportional and reasonable, if the security of the state is put on the other end of the scale? Has the red line which cannot be stepped over in a state governed by the rule of law been moved? We still continue looking not only for balance, but also for an answer to the question of how far can we speak and act, referring to the national security as a legitimate aim for restricting human rights.
Honourable colleagues, an international cooperation of constitutional courts is a way for solving relevant issues on a wider scale, exceeding the borders of one state. This period will be characterised by the importance of judicial dialogue in Latvia and in Europe.
Our meeting of today also is an example of the way we are creating a common dialogue and solving relevant issues. At this point I would like to thank all those who facilitated our meeting at this conference.
Our thanks go to the representatives of the Venice Commission for their support in organising this conference.
We thank our colleagues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia. Thanks to your support we were able to invite to the conference and engage in discussions with colleagues from the constitutional courts of the Eastern Partnership countries, as well as from the states of Central Asia.
We thank our foreign colleagues who have prepared presentations for the conference.
We thank the journal “Jurista Vārds”.
We thank the Faculty of Law of the University of Latvia for the possibility to stream our conference to a broader audience.
And, of course, enormous thanks to employees and judges of the Constitutional Court for their work in organising the conference. We are small in numbers, but as a united team we are able to achieve a lot. I thank you.
I would like to thank our colleagues for their involvement in selecting the topic of this conference. This year we shall focus upon issues related to the limits of the competence of constitutional courts.
In order for a constitutional court to successfully perform its basic task – to ensure the supremacy of the constitution – it is important to demonstrate a reasonable, balanced and sustainable stance with regard to legal issues and, in adopting decisions, to respect the discretion of the executive power and the legislator. Currently the situation in some countries indicates that the independence of constitutional courts may be jeopardised if the legislator and the executive power perceive in the activities of the judicial power an excessive activism and exceeding the limits of its competence.
To avoid such situations, to the extent possible, we shall discuss, today and tomorrow, the theoretical and practical aspects in connection with activism of constitutional courts in a democratic state. The topic is an interesting one, and we hope to engage in a valuable exchange of opinions.
Let our ideas and experience make this Conference proceed successfully.