Friday, August 17, 2007

Is there justice in Latvian judicial system?

Simultaneous shock and dismay in the Latvian public sphere followed after appearance of the book by Jānis Brūklenis "Tiesāšanās kā ķēķis" ("Home made adjudication") in bookstores today. Jānis Brūklenis is a nickname for prominent Latvian free lance journalist Lato Lapsa. He is famous for investigating shady deals of Latvian nouveau riche and incumbent political "elite". The shock of his new book was caused not so much due to the way Mr Lapsa got his data, but due to the realization that judicial system in Latvia is thoroughly rotten.

The big fuss prior the book appeared on shelves made me think that it is a media hype for promoting sales of the book. However, after watching the interview with the Head of the Supreme Court, Mr. Andris Guļāns in the Latvian TV evening news yesterday, and learning judicial experts opinions I realized, that this is a must read book for the end of the Summer in Latvia. Actually on the first day all copies were sold, thus the book is becoming a national bestseller.

The author of the book received anonymous transcripts of telephone conversations, between most prominent barrister in Latvia, Mr Andris Grūtups (who smugly announced in an interview to the Latvian TV, that he has forgotten when he last lost a court case...) and numerous judges in the Riga District and Supreme Court of Latvia, into his letterbox. Mr Lato Lapsa delivered the transcript to the General Prosecutor's office and it would be foolish to discuss the authenticity of transcripts, which rather ironically were translated into Russian (the same as transcrypts of the Jūrmalgate affair), until then. While the Prosecutors office investigates the data there are still several isues to be raised. First, it is clear that whoever taped telephone conversations of the prominent Latvian barrister without court's permission did it illegally. Second, even if those records of telephone conversations were performed illegally, it should not deter investigation of the terrifying situation at the centre of the Latvian judicial system (also the Head of the Supreme Court agreed on such formulation and openly admitted that he had doubts about some of his colleagues). And finally, this scandal on the grand scale should foster cleaning up of the judicial system from corrupt judges and barristers, to repeat the words of the judge of European Court of Justice, Mr Egīls Levits.

Mr Levits is insider of the judiscial system and person who has been very instrumental in creating Latvian judicial and constitutional system after regaining independence in 1991. Nevertheless, yet again the present scandal of the Latvian judicial system shows difference of the governance style between Latvia and Estonia. Sixteen years ago, when most State administrative aparatuses were formed from the scratch, it was Estonian Ministry of Justice that decided to ensure the impartiality of the Supreme Court. For this reason the best young legal experts at that time were sent to the Western European universities and Supreme Courts for training sessions to gain thus needed skills. Those young judicial scholars without ties to corporate networks formed the nucleus of the Supreme Court of Estonia (situated in Tartu by the way), and enables European standards in judicial practice today. Latvian Ministry of Justice failed to pay attention to such aspect, and thus we face the scandal today. The latter was caused by he very failure of Ministry to grasp the crux of the problem in the early 1990's, and the fact that Latvia is a small country with corporate ties between persons working in the judicial guild.

Until the prosecutor's office announces its verdict the public will probably discuss and politicians should decide how to move forward from here? The scandal undermines the very foundations of the democratic regime in Latvia, just to remember the extremely low trust of government, parliamentary system among Latvian public (http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb67/eb67_lv_nat.pdf). Also historic parallels make me thoughtful here. Mr Andris Grūtups is considered a personal barrister for the former PM Andris Šķēle for quite many years, and he is also an author of rather numerous laws in Latvia (denationalization and civil law for example). Mr Grūtups is openly consulted by judges, and this fact only underlines the question of ethical standards of today's judges in Latvia. In ddition the Mr Grūtups example shows how defective is the balance of three branches of government in Latvia.

The historic example I wanted to draw parallels with here, is the polemick of Thomas Paine in the Rights of Man. Thomas Paine argues (pp. 81-87) with the patriarch of the conservative movement Edmund Burke about the rationale of the French revolution, and he very neatly delineates essential problems of the French state prior the eruptive events of 1789, the corrupt courts among them!

I do not want to draw as drastic parallels as the British radical at the turn of the 19th century did. Similarly, I do not believe that proposal of the Diena columnist to fire all judges en toto (http://www.vdiena.lv/lat/politics/printed/aivars_ozolinjsh_gruutupiaade ) is achievable. It would be a too radical proposal, because the question arises who should replace the corrupt ones (rather huge number) then?

Mr Ozoliņš proposes to simply import them from Western Europe. Mechanically it is possible, but the question of human resources would be at stake here again, because Latvian language translators are already in dire shortage in Brussels today, for example. Perhaps, English should be introduced as a official language in Latvia, as I once proposed for the sake of alleviating the tensions between indegenous Latvian and russophone populations? It would certainly make the lucrative labour market (opening up due to the scandals as the present one) attractive for many skilled English speakers in the long run. It sounds futuristic now, but the proposal does not sound so ludicrious considering the fact that several politicians in such traditional society as in Japan have thought about such an option in order to keep Japanese workforce competitive on the world stage. Anyway, the situation is serious enough for government to act. Next couple of months leading us into the Winter season shall be a testing ground for incumbent political elite, to manage the Latvian state running with the inreasing number of endogenous problems and exogenous challenges on the horizon.

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