The address by the President of the Constitutional Court Ineta Ziemele at the Conference of Latvia’s Judges
President of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia
Riga, 7 September 2018
Highly Esteemed Mr President of the State,
Highly Esteemed Mr Chief Judge of the Supreme Court,
Highly Esteemed Representatives of the Legislative and the Executive Powers,
Honourable Judges and Colleagues,
In my address at the Judges’ Conference on the occasion of the centenary of the State of Latvia and the judicial system, I would like to briefly touch upon only two aspects, namely, the role of the judicial power in a democratic state governed by the rule of law and a judge’s special responsibility and the duty to change.
As mentioned before, recently the judicial power has been the subject of many discussions. However, I have found that the place and the essence of the judicial power have been fully understood neither in the general public nor within the judicial power itself. Thus, I would like to recall a statement made by the Constitutional Court in one of its first judgements in 1999 and, namely, “that the principle of separation of powers is one of the main principles of a democratic state, from which, in turn, the control of the judicial power over the legislative and the executive power follows. No legal norm or activities of the executive power, if these affect a person’s rights, may remain outside the review by the judicial power.” Recently, the Constitutional Court underscored that “every judge, in administering justice, acts as a check on the executive and the legislative power in the system of checks and balances that is derived from the principle of separation of the state powers.” Hence, a judge is neither a doctor nor a teacher, neither a prosecutor nor a police officer who do not have this special function of being a check on the legislative and executive power in a democratic state. A judge as the representative of one branch of state power, namely, the judicial power, has a special status, a special role, and a special responsibility.
On the one hand, this status demands that the system of financial and social safeguards established in the state should be such that would allow the judicial power to perform the function of checks, which is so important for the rule of law, and would ensure the special status of the judicial power with respect to the legislative and the executive power as enshrined in the Satversme [the Constitution]. It is surprising that 28 years after the restoration of independence and return to the principles of a democratic state governed by the rule of law this still needs to be discussed, that the Constitutional Court has to pass a number of judgements and has to follow closely how these judgements are enforced. In the period following the restoration of independence, it has become obvious that the welfare, equality and development of society is impossible without a strong judicial power, which guarantees a fair trial, averts arbitrariness and absurd decisions affecting the rights of persons in specific situations, and, thus, is a genuine check on the legislative and the executive power. If public regularly discusses dubious solutions for the national economy or in social matters and the judicial power has been unable to improve the situation at least slightly in the framework of particular cases, then there are grounds not only to ask about the causes, but finding the answer is the matter of the future of Latvia as a democratic state governed by the rule of law.
On the other hand, the Constitutional Court has recognised that the legislator has not only the right but also the obligation to set special requirements regarding a judge’s competence, qualification and experience. The Constitutional Court holds that the office of a judge should be the apex of a lawyer’s career. I would like to highlight, in particular, the statement by the Constitutional Court that the judge has the obligation to constantly expand his or her knowledge throughout the career of a judge not only to not lose their qualification but also to be able to perform the special functions of the judicial power in the rapidly changing time and world. However, in a democratic state governed by the rule of law a situation is inadmissible, where special requirements are set for and special responsibility is expected from the judicial power but in the attitude and decisions by the legislative and the executive power with regards to the functioning of the judicial power the principle of leftovers or – in the best case – the principle of the younger brother dominates. An attitude like this is incompatible with the status of the judicial power and does not promote trust in a democratic state governed by the rule of law.
Finally, why is it important to bring order into the imperfect system of checks and balances in Latvia? This is a matter of embodying the aim of the State of Latvia, the essence of which is to ensure to the inhabitants of Latvia life worthy of human dignity. A man is born equal in his rights and dignity. The state is a mechanism for ensuring the human dignity. This mechanism is characterised by the special relationship of checks and balances between the branches of state power. If this balance is disrupted, then human dignity is not guaranteed in the state to a full extent. People want to trust the courts and their state. Trust in courts is one of the most significant features of the co-existence and functioning of the contemporary society. The wish of each inhabitant of the state to be in this society, to live, to develop and to seek protection in case of necessity is important for the sustainable development of Latvia. A lawyer masters all this while acquiring the legal education. This knowledge determines a lawyer’s special mission in society but a judge has both a special mission and special responsibility.
Dear colleagues – judges, notwithstanding the fact that the judicial power has to rely on the understanding of and the support for the necessity of a strong judicial power by the other state powers, the framework of a democratic European Union state governed by the rule of law provides to everyone the possibility to reinforce the status of the judge themselves and to facilitate trust in the judicial power. What I call the ideal judge should be in the centre of Latvia as a self-respecting, developed state, namely, a judge who is in constant dialogue with colleagues in Europe and with the legal science, a judge who is independent and courageous. I call upon every one of you, upon stepping over the threshold of the centenary of the State of Latvia and the threshold of the centenary of the Latvian judicial system, to move towards the ideal Latvian judge inside you.