Procedure in the Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court is an independent body of the judiciary which, within the jurisdiction specified in the Satversme of the Republic of Latvia (hereinafter – the Constitution) and in the law, considers matters concerning the compliance of laws and other regulations with the Constitution, as well as other matters placed under its jurisdiction.
The procedure of the Constitutional Court is regulated by the Constitutional Court Law and the Rules of Procedure of the Constitutional Court; the Court is entitled to decide on procedural issues that are not stipulated by the said regulations at its own discretion.
The procedure of the Constitutional Court is composed of several successive stages.
I Examination of an application
The Constitutional Court procedure begins at the moment an application for the initiation of a case is received by the Court.
The Chancery of the Constitutional Court registers the receipt of the application and forwards the application to the President of the Court. The President of the Court reviews the documents filed and appoints a Constitutional Court panel to examine the application.
The panel, which is composed of three justices of the Constitutional Court, must make a decision on the application within a month from the day the application is registered. This term may be extended by one month in the cases provided for by the law.
The panel has the right to refuse to initiate a case if: 1) the case does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court; 2) the applicant has no right to file an application; 3) the application does not conform to the requirements set out in the Constitutional Court Law; 4) the application concerns a claim which has already been adjudicated; 5) the deficiencies previously specified by the panel have not been essentially corrected in the re-submitted application.
The panel’s decisions are not subject to appeal. However, if the panel has decided to refuse to initiate a case, the individual may correct the deficiencies found and re-submit the application.
If the panel has initiated a case, a copy of the respective decision is sent to the participants in the case – the applicant and the body (official) that issued the contested act. Also, the body (official) that issued the contested act is invited to submit a written reply stating the facts of the case and the legal reasoning. Information about the initiation of the case is published in the official journal Latvijas Vēstnesis, as well as on the website of the Constitutional Court.
II Preparation of a case for adjudication
Once a case has been initiated, the President of the Court undertakes to prepare it for adjudication on a first come first served basis or appoints another justice to do it.
The justice prepares the case for adjudication within five months, or, for particularly complicated cases, the Constitutional Court may decide to extend this term, but by no more than two months.
In the course of preparing the case, the justice may request additional explanations and information from the participants in the case, from state and local government authorities, from other persons involved in the proceedings, determine persons to be invited for giving their opinion, commission an expert evaluation in the case, decide on the requests of the participants in the case, combine or divide cases, and take other steps necessary for the comprehensive preparation of the case.
The justice completes the preparation of a case by drawing up a finding, which should contain the most important information about the case, about the procedural steps taken, as well as a suggestion as to the type of proceedings for hearing the case.
Having received the finding, the President of the Constitutional Court makes a decision on passing the case on for hearing by a particular bench of justices and sets the time and place of the assignments sitting.
III. Passing a case on for adjudication
After the decision on passing the case on for adjudication has been made, the participants in the case – the applicant and the body (official) that issued the contested act – have the right to get acquainted with the case materials.
In the assignments sitting, the Court decides on the type of hearing procedure (a court sitting with the participation of the parties to the case or written proceedings), the time and place of the court sitting, and other matters. The court sitting in which the case will be heard must take place no sooner than 15 days after and not later than five months after the date of the assignments sitting.
To determine the type of procedure in which the case should be heard, the Constitutional Court takes into account the case materials, the possible effect of the case on the legal system, the mutual relations between the constitutional bodies, the existing case law of the Constitutional Court, and the state budget.
The information about the time and place of the court sitting is made known to the participants of the case and published on the website of the Constitutional Court, as well as, if the case is to be heard in a court sitting with the participation of the parties to the case, in the official journal Latvijas Vēstnesis.
IV The Hearings
Cases are mostly heard by the full Constitutional Court, except for certain categories of cases which are heard by a bench of three justices. The full court may not consist of less than five justices.
The sittings of the Constitutional Court take place in Riga but may be held elsewhere for objective reasons.
In written proceedings, the case is considered, and the judgment is made, in the conference room. This means that the respective sitting is not minuted, and the participants in the case are not invited to take part in it.
Conversely, court hearings with the participation of the parties to the case are open, except in situations when the Constitutional Court decides to hear the case in private.
Anyone who has registered in advance with the court hearing secretary may attend an open court hearing. The maximum number of those present is determined by the court hearing secretary, who takes into account the number of case participants and other persons involved in the case, as well as the capacity of the courtroom.
During the court hearing, the Court passes decisions by a majority vote of its members, the discussions taking place on the bench or in the conference room.
The course of the Constitutional Court hearing is recorded in minutes, as well as using technical means for a verbatim record.
V Adoption and pronouncement of a judgment
The court hearing is followed by a deliberation by the justices, during which the Court makes a judgment on behalf of the Republic of Latvia. If, in the making of the judgment, the Court establishes the circumstances identified by the Constitutional Court Law as grounds for terminating legal proceedings, it interrupts the making of the judgment and decides on whether the legal proceedings should be terminated. If the vote is tied, the legal proceedings are continued.
The Court passes a judgment by a majority vote. The justices may only vote “for” or “against”. If the vote is tied, the contested provision is recognised as being compatible with the provision of superior legal force. It is an obligation of a justice to keep the secrecy of the conference room.
A judgment is passed not later than 30 days after the Constitutional Court sitting and is signed by the chairperson of the court hearing. The justice who has voted against the opinion expressed in the judgment gives her/his dissenting opinion in writing within two weeks after the adoption of the judgment. The dissenting opinion of a justice is appended to the case and published in the official journal Latvijas Vēstnesis two months after the adoption of the judgment.
If a case has been heard in a sitting with the participation of the parties to the case, the judgment passed in this case is pronounced by being read out and is published in the official journal Latvijas Vēstnesis not later than within five days after it has been passed. A judgment passed in written proceedings is made known to the case participants by sending them a copy of it and is published in the official periodical.
A judgment of the Constitutional Court is final and not subject to appeal.
VI Implementation of a judgment
A judgment of the Constitutional Court and the interpretation of legal provisions contained therein are binding on all state and local government bodies, courts, officials, as well as on private individuals. A legal provision that has been recognised by the Constitutional Court as being incompatible with a provision of superior legal force becomes void on the day the respective Constitutional Court judgment is published, unless the Court has ruled otherwise in the judgment.
In deciding on the moment when the contested provision becomes void, the Constitutional Court must take into account that its task is to remedy, to the extent possible, the infringement of the individual’s fundamental rights. Alongside that, the Court must look to it that the situation which may develop after the contested provision ceases to be in force does not create new infringements of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution and does not cause any significant damage to the interests of the state or society. The law invests the Constitutional Court not only with powers, but also with the responsibility to make its judgments ensure legal stability, clarity, and peace in the social reality.