Speech by the President of the Constitutional Court Aldis Laviņš at the European Criminal Bar Association Spring Conference in Riga
President of the Constitutional Court
Keynote speech at the European Criminal Bar Association Spring Conference in Riga
Riga 23 April 2022
Dear distinguished criminal lawyers,
I am delighted to have this opportunity to address all of you this morning. If my count is correct, this is the 45th conference of the European Criminal Bar Association and, on behalf of myself and my colleagues at the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia, I would like to express great satisfaction that European criminal lawyers finally have the opportunity, to discover Riga and Latvia.
As the programme of today’s conference reminds us, these are difficult times for everyone – the Russian aggression against Ukraine has raised a strong reaction throughout the world and will surely, sooner or later, demand the involvement of criminal defence lawyers in the tribunal or tribunals which will be tasked with prosecuting the atrocities that are, as we speak, being committed in Ukraine on a daily basis.
Generally, criminal defence lawyers, as guardians of fundamental rights, make a valuable contribution to their societies. A competently and diligently executed criminal defence serves as a powerful tool to ensure justice and prevent any apparent misuse of state power. But at the same time, let me underline the broader role of any lawyer, including a criminal defence lawyer. In my opinion, firstly we – as lawyers – have to be aware of how our state, and particularly, the judiciary is functioning. We have to constantly ask ourselves – is our judiciary independent? Does the judiciary ensure the so-called check and balance system? These questions do not merely have a legal dimension. Unfortunately, they can cost human lives. Would Europe face war in the 21st century, if all countries on Europe’s continent had an independent and effective judiciary? It is very likely that the answer would be – no! Europe would not face authoritarianism and current atrocities. And criminal defence lawyers in some countries would not be obliged to stand between the ugliest faces of tyranny and ordinary people.
Dear colleagues, criminal law is a field of law that requires a delicate balance between guaranteeing fundamental rights and ensuring public safety. Striking this balance is not always easy, which is something that I see in my daily work – almost always cases related to criminal law or criminal procedure are on the docket of the Constitutional Court. In fact, the topic of the first panel of the conference – “Confiscation and seizure of assets in criminal proceedings” – touches upon a rather unique issue that our Court is currently analysing. While hearing the case, the Court has sought comparative information from other countries which, frankly speaking, has been difficult to find. This proves that the topics that will be discussed are of the utmost relevance and importance.
I look forward to learning about the outcome of your discussions in this regard as well as with regard to other criminal law issues of importance in Europe. Once again, welcome to Riga, and have a fruitful and enjoyable conference!