Judges of the Constitutional Court of Latvia and the Supreme Court of the Netherlands meet in the framework of the bilateral dialogue
On Friday, 17 March, the delegation of the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of the Netherlands paid an official visit to the Constitutional Court of Latvia. The judges shared their experience on the specifics of the competence and procedure of the two courts, and discussed current case law.
The Constitutional Court was represented at the bilateral meeting by its President Aldis Laviņš, Vice-President Irēna Kucina, Judges Gunārs Kusiņš, Jānis Neimanis, Anita Rodiņa and Jautrīte Briede, as well as the Head of the Legal Department Kristaps Tamužs, his deputy Baiba Bakmane and Advisor of the Court Aleksandrs Potaičuks. The delegation of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands consisted of the President of the Court, Dineke de Groot, and Judges Arjo van Eijsden, Matthias Borgers and Annemarie ter Heide.
In the introduction to the meeting, President of the Constitutional Court Aldis Laviņš particularly emphasised the importance of judicial cooperation: “The membership of the Constitutional Court of Latvia in the international community and its commitment to the idea of a united Europe require the implementation of active international cooperation and the maintenance of supranational dialogue in order to contribute to the restoration of international peace and security, as well as to promote the preservation of the common values of the European judicial area. This is particularly important in the current geopolitical context. The rule of law, the sustainability of democracy and fundamental rights cannot be comprehensively ensured within the national legal system alone – a broad vision and international dialogue are needed. That is why one of the strategic goals of the Constitutional Court is its international recognition and high reputation.”
The President of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, Dineke de Groot, agreed that discussions with judges from different regions of the European Union help to understand common values and develop a common view of the law. She drew attention to the common factor between the two courts, namely that all countries in the European judicial area exercise similar functions of constitutional review. At the same time, however, the institution exercising constitutional review may differ from country to country – it may be both a separate constitutional court and a supreme court within the overall judicial system, or another specific judicial institution. According to Dineke de Groot, the most important functions of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands are to ensure the uniform application of the law, develop the legal system and protect fundamental rights.
The Presidents of the Constitutional Court of Latvia and the Supreme Court of the Netherlands also introduced the discussion on the competence of both courts and the procedure they follow when assessing the compatibility of legislation with the Constitution, in particular comparing the preliminary ruling mechanism in the Dutch judicial system with the right of Latvian courts to submit an application to the Constitutional Court. The Dutch Constitution’s prohibition on the courts assessing the compatibility of legislation adopted by the Parliament with the country’s fundamental law was also discussed. This prohibition ensures a strict separation of the legislative and judicial branches of power, but at the same time does not apply to the review of the constitutionality of legislative norms.
The parties further discussed the specificities of tax litigation. In his opening, the Judge Arjo van Eisden drew attention to the so-called collective objection procedure in the Netherlands, which is designed to deal with large-scale applications on tax law issues of public importance. Together with the preliminary ruling procedure, it allows the Supreme Court of the Netherlands to find a legal solution that meets the public interest quickly and efficiently. In his introductory remarks, the President of the Constitutional Court Aldis Laviņš emphasised the wide discretion of the state in implementing tax policy: “At the same time, the legislator’s actions in the area of tax policy must comply with the provisions of the Constitution and general principles of law. Tax legislation must always be based on reasonable grounds provided by the legislator.”
The judges also discussed the environmental aspects of litigation and the principle of sustainability as enshrined in the Constitution. Annemarie ter Heide pointed out that Sections 2 and 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms impose an obligation on states to take measures to limit climate change, taking into account the severity of its effects and the risk of its occurrence. In her introductory remarks, Anita Rodiņa, the Judge of the Constitutional Court developed various legal considerations regarding the fact that the right to live in a favourable environment is also applicable to legal persons, in particular non-governmental organisations.
At the end of the meeting, the judges also shared their experience on the latest developments in the case law of both courts. Jānis Neimanis, the Judge of the Constitutional Court, and Matthias Borgers, the Judge of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, provided introductory reports. Jānis Neimanis analysed the aspects of the application of the precautionary principle in the case law of the Constitutional Court, pointing out that it is not necessary to wait until a risk becomes a reality, which may mean that in a unique and uncertain situation precautionary measures may be taken without extensive and complete research. Similarly, when considering cases of lifetime bans imposed on previously convicted persons which restrict fundamental personal rights, he stressed that the legislator should not be guided by general presumptions, but should, as far as possible, promote the achievement of individual justice. In his report, Matthias Borgers drew attention to the fact that the preliminary ruling mechanism is also relevant in the Dutch judicial system in criminal matters – especially when the Supreme Court has to rule on mutual trust, cooperation and reliability of evidence between investigating authorities in cross-border crimes.
The visit included a recording of an episode of the Constitutional Court’s broadcast “Tversme”, in which the Vice-President of the Constitutional Court, Irēna Kucina, and the President of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, Dineke de Groot, talked about case-law developments in the European legal area. The new episode of the broadcast will be available soon on the website of the Constitutional Court and on Spotify platform.
At the end of the bilateral meeting, the President of the Constitutional Court thanked the delegation of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands for the previous meaningful dialogue between the two courts and active cooperation in the area of the rule of law.