The norm that provides that the decision to refuse initiation of cassation legal proceedings in a civil case may be drawn up in the form of a resolution complies with the Satversme

16.03.2020.

The Contested Norm

Section 464 (41) of the Civil Procedure Law provides that the decision adopted at the assignments hearing of the Supreme Court regarding initiation of cassation proceedings, on refusal to initiate cassation hearings, on transferring a case for hearing in cassation procedure by the Supreme Court in expanded composition, as well as refusal to accept an ancillary claim may be drawn up in the form of a resolution in conformity with the provisions set out in Section 229 (2) of this Law.

The Legal Norm of Higher Legal Force

The first sentence of Article 92 of the Satversme of the Republic of Latvia (hereinafter – the Satversme): “Everyone has the right to defend his or her rights and lawful interests in a fair court.”

 The Facts

 On the basis of applications submitted by two natural persons and six legal persons, eight cases were initiated with respect to the compliance of the contested norm with the first sentence of Article 92 of the Satversme. The applications comprised identical claims, and the legal reasoning provided was based on similar arguments. To facilitate comprehensive and swift adjudication, the Constitutional Court decided to join them in one case.

The applicants, as parties to a case, appealed against the judgements passed in civil cases in cassation procedure. The panels of the Supreme Court’s Judges refused to initiate cassation legal proceedings on the basis on their cassation complaints.

The applicants noted that the contested norm allowed drawing up decisions on the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings in the form of a resolution, without providing the substantiation; therefore neither the submitters of a cassation complaint nor the society in general could find out the reasons of the Judges’ Panels that had been the basis for adopting these decisions. The applicants held that the contested norm denied to them the right to a substantiated court’s ruling and, thus, was incompatible with the first sentence of Article 92 of the Satversme.

 The Court’s Findings

On the limits of the claim

The Constitutional Court found that the applicants had expressed objections only against the fact that, in accordance with the contested norm, the decision on refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings could be drawn up in the form of a resolution. Therefore the Constitutional Court examined the compliance of the contested norm with the first sentence of Article 92 of the Satversme insofar it applied to the decision on the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings. [13]

On the principle of stating reasons included in the first sentence of Article 92 of the Satversme

The Constitutional Court noted: if, in a certain category of cases, the State envisages a person’s right to appeal against a ruling to a court of higher instance then it must ensure that the process of appeal complies with the requirements regarding accessibility of the court, fair proceedings and other requirements of a fair trial. [14.]

The principle of stating reasons is one of the elements of justice and the right to a fair trial, and the mandatory requirement to provide in all rulings adopted with respect to a person the legal grounds or the respective legal norm, on the basis of which the respective legal relationship has been resolved. [14.]

Whether, in accordance with the principle of stating reasons, the substantiation should be mandatorily indicated in a decision of a certain type as well as the scope and level of details of the substantiation depend on a number of systemically interlinked factors, which characterise this ruling. These factors are, inter alia, the legal relationships, which is resolved by the respective ruling, as well as the legal procedure and grounds for adoption thereof. [14.]

On the context of the contested norm

The Constitutional Court noted that, in compliance with the principle of stating reasons, in the decision, which is drawn up in the form of a resolution in accordance with the third sentence of Section 229 (2) of the Civil Procedure Law, the time and place of its adoption, the name and composition of the court, as well as the legal grounds of the court’s or the judge’s decision or the solution to the matter under review, are indicated. Hence, the contested norm envisages the rights of the Judges’ Panel of the Supreme Court  to draw up the decision on refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings in a civil case without providing substantiation. [15]

The Constitutional Court found that, in the practice, the Civil Cases Department of the Supreme Court draws up the decision on the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings in the form of a decision with substantiation provided. However, in accordance with the contested norm, the decision on the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings can be drawn up also in the form of a decision without substantiation. Hence, the Constitutional Court examined whether the legal regulation, pursuant to which a Judges’ Panel, within the framework of its discretion, could draw up a decision on refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings without providing substantiation thereof, complies with the principle of stating reasons. [15]

On whether the substantiation should be included in the decision on the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings

In assessing, whether the requirement to indicate the substantiation in the decision on refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings in a civil case followed form the principle of stating reasons, the Constitutional Court took into account the cassation court’s function and peculiarities of cassation legal proceedings, the nature of civil law relationships as well as the significance of this decision in civil proceedings and the legal regulation that defines the procedure and grounds for the adoption thereof. [16]

On effective use of the cassation court’s resources

In view of the importance and functions of the cassation court in a democratic state governed by the rule of law as well as the significance of the decision on the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings in civil procedure, the Constitutional Court recognised that the legislator had to ensure that this court was fulfilling its functions effectively. This means that, inter alia, the legislator should relieve the cassation instance court from reviewing unsubstantiated complaints and performing inessential tasks. [16.1.]

The Constitutional Court recognised: even if formulating the substantiation of one decision in writing, possibly, would not require excessive investment of resources, in the long-term, the right to not provide substantiation for a decision on the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings allowed saving substantial amount of the court’s time and labour resources and ensured efficient use of these resources in fulfilling the functions of a cassation instance court. [16.1.]

On the nature of civil law relationships

The Constitutional Court noted that, usually, the disputes pertaining to persons’ private law relationships, which these persons most often established voluntarily and within which persons usually enjoyed equal rights, were dealt with in civil law procedure. Although the disputes to be resolved in civil law procedure may have a significant impact on some fundamental rights of persons included in the Satversme. the consequences of a civil law dispute cannot be equalled to criminal liability, which is the most severe form of legal liability possible. [16.2]

The Constitutional Court underscored that additional safeguards for rights protection with respect to criminal proceedings followed from the principle of stating reasons, included in Article 92 of the Satversme, which could not be automatically applied also to other types of judicial proceedings. Hence, the finding made by the Constitutional Court in case No. 2017‑23‑01 regarding the need to provide substantiation in a decision on refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings in criminal cases per se does not mean that an analogous finding can be made also with respect to the contested norm. [16.2]

On the procedure and legal grounds of the decision on the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings

The Constitutional Court found that, pursuant to Section 464 of the Civil Procedure Law, the decision on the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings a civil case was adopted in a collegial way and unanimously. The collegiality in adopting this decision ensures comprehensive assessment of whether there are grounds for initiating cassation legal proceedings on the basis of the particular cassation complaint. [16.3.]

The Constitutional Court noted that, in accordance with Section 464(1) of the Civil Procedure Law, the Judges’ Panel had the obligation to refuse initiation of cassation legal proceedings if the cassation complaint was incompatible with the formal requirements set for it in the law. However, if the decision on the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings is adopted in accordance with the second or third part of Section 4641 of the Civil Procedure Law, the Judges’ Panel, within the limits of its discretion, should ascertain the existence of judicature or united case law and the need to develop law with respect to the matters indicated in the cassation complaint as well as the compliance of the appealed judgement with judicature or the correctness of the outcome of the case included in it. [16.4.]

Having examined the aforementioned grounds for refusal, the Constitutional Court recognised that the reference to the legal grounds for the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings included in the decision provided to the person sufficient information regarding the reasons for refusal. [16.4.]

Hence, in view of the impact of civil law relationships on a person’s rights, the functions and peculiarities of the cassation instance court as well as the procedure and grounds for adopting this decision, the Constitutional Court found that the principle of stating reasons did not require indicating in the decision on the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings in a civil case its substantiation. [16.4.]

The Constitutional Court held:

to recognise Section 464 (4 1) of the Civil Procedure Law, insofar it applied to the decision on the refusal to initiate cassation legal proceedings, as being compatible with the first sentence of Article 92 of the Satversme of the Republic of Latvia.

The judgement by the Constitutional Court is final and not subject to appeal, it shall enter into force on the day it is published. The judgement will be published in the official journal “Latvijas Vēstnesis” within the term set in Section 33 (1) of the Constitutional Court Law.

The text of the judgement in Latvian is available on the homepage of the Constitutional Court: http://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/web/viewer.html?file=/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/2019-13-01_Spriedums.pdf#search=

Linked case: 2019-13-01