Strasbourg, 13 March 2014
European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ)
Working Group on the Evaluation of Judicial Systems (CEPEJ-GT-EVAL)
Pilot co-operation process / Peer review on judicial statistics
5th cycle (2013)
Riga (Latvia), 14 - 15 November 2013 (n° 11)
1. The exercise of evaluating judicial systems carried out by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) has the aim of progressively defining a core of quantitative as well as qualitative key elements, collected on a regular basis and examined in the same way in all the member States of the Council of Europe. This will allow the pinpointing of common indicators on the quality and the efficiency of the functioning of justice within the member States of the Council of Europe, in order to present a unique picture of the organisation of justice in Europe.
2. Given the stakes at hand, practical precautions are necessary to give credit to such an exercise. With this end in view, the 47 members of the CEPEJ have framed an evaluation scheme which has been discussed and is to become permanent, the CEPEJ has also set up a system of national delegates permitting efficient communication with the secretariat of the CEPEJ. Finally, guidelines on statistics are being discussed.
3. With a view to upgrading its methods, the CEPEJ decided at its 10th plenary meeting (Strasbourg, 5-6 December 2012) to set up a pilot peer review co-operation process in order to strengthen the credibility of the data collected in the framework of the activity for evaluating European judicial systems1. This pilot co-operation process will consist in visits to three States every year on a voluntary basis. In 2008, for the first cycle of evaluation, France, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Poland welcomed the peers of the CEPEJ. In 2009, Malta and the Russian Federation were visited but this second cycle was only achieved in 2010 by means of a meeting in Oslo regrouping 5 Nordic States. The third cycle consisted of three visits: Turkey, the Netherlands and Austria. In 2012, the fourth cycle consisted of the visit in Azerbaijan.
4. The main objectives of this co-operation are as follows :
§ Supporting Council of Europe member States in:
- improving the quality of their judicial statistics,
- developing their statistics system so that judicial statistics at national level are in line with the common indicators defined through the CEPEJ's Evaluation Scheme.
§ Facilitating the exchange of experiences between national judicial statistics systems, sharing good practices, identifying benchmarks and facilitating the transfer of information.
§ Contributing to the transparency and accountability of the CEPEJ process for evaluating European judicial systems and helping to improve the process.
5. The reports can be consulted in the following documents CEPEJ-GT-EVAL(2008)1 (1st cycle), CEPEJ-GT-EVAL(2010)5 (2nd cycle), CEPEJ-GT-EVAL(2011)2Rev3 (3rd cycle) and CEPEJ-GT-EVAL(2012)8(4th cycle).
Date: 14, 15 November 2013
Court administration – Latvian Ministry of Justice
Mrs Aija Branta, Latvian member of the CEPEJ, Vice-President of the Constitutional Court and Ms Agnija Karlsone, CEPEJ national correspondent, Head of Project Management and International Cooperation Unit, Court Administration.
Mr Martins LAZDOVSKIS, State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice;
Mrs Irena KUCINA, Deputy state Secretary on Court of the Ministry of Justice;
Mrs Aija BRANTA, judge, Vice-President of the Constitutional Court;
Mrs Inita ILGAŽA, Director of the Judiciary Policy Department, Ministry of Justice;
Mr Edvins BALSEVICS, Director of the Court Administration;
Ms Agnija KARLSONE, Head of Project Management and International Cooperation Unit, Court Administration;
Mrs Olita ABOLINA, Head of Budget Unit, Finance and Administrative Department, Court Administration;
Mrs Jana ZEMBERGA, Senior official of Court Information Unit, the Court and Land Registry Department, Court Administration;
Mrs Linda STRAZDIŅA, Assistant to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court;
Mrs Iveta KRĒVICA, Chief judge of the Riga City Vidzeme Suburb Court;
Mrs Doloresa BAMBERE, deputy chief judge of the Riga City Vidzeme Suburb Court;
Mr Arturs GRICKUS, Project manager of the project "Modernization of courts in Latvia”.
Mr Jean-Paul JEAN (France), General Prosecutor at Court of Cassation, Associated Professor at the University of Poitiers, Chair of the CEPEJ-GT-EVAL;
Mrs Beata GRUSZCZYŃSKA (Poland), Institute of Justice, Ministry of Justice, Warsaw, Professor at Warsaw University, Member of the CEPEJ-GT-EVAL;
Mrs Yinka TEMPELMAN (Netherlands), Quality program manager for the Dutch Council for the Judiciary, Member of the CEPEJ-GT-QUAL ;
Mr Roberto CHENAL (Council of Europe), Administrator of the CEPEJ.
14 November 2013
Supreme Court of Latvia, Brivibas boulevard 36, Riga
9.30. – 9.40. Welcome speech by Mr Martins Lazdovskis, State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice
9.40. – 10.20. “Latvian Judicial System: structure, trends, development” by Mr Martins Lazdovskis, State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice
10.20. – 11.00. Presentation on CEPEJ evaluation report: structure, problems by Ms Agnija Karlsone, Head of Project Management and International Cooperation Unit
- Representatives from Court Administration : Mr Edvins Balsevics, Director of the Court administration, Inita Ilgaža, Director of the Judiciary Policy Department, , Mrs Olita Abolina, Head of Budget Unit, Finance and Administrative Department, Mrs Jana Zemberga, Senior official of Court Information Unit, the Court and Land Registry Department, Mr Karlis Langins, statistician of the Court Information Unit, The Court and Land Registry Department ;
- Representative from the Ministry of Justice : Mrs Irena Kucina, Deputy state Secretary on Court of the Ministry of Justice ;
- Representative from Supreme Court : Mrs Linda Strazdiņa, Assistant to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
11.00. - 11.20. Coffee break
11.20.-13.00. Follow-up of the discussions on CEPEJ evaluation report: structure, problems.
13.00. – 14.00. Lunch
14.00. – 14.30 Tour visit to the Supreme Court.
15.00. – 16.30. Meeting with Mrs Iveta Krēvica, Chief Judge, and Mrs Doloresa Bambere, deputy chief judge (Riga City Vidzeme Suburb Court, Abrenes street 3, Riga).
17.30. End of the meeting.
15 November 2013
Court Administration, Ūnijas street 8, k-9, Riga
10.00. – 11.00. Presentation on Swiss – Latvian cooperation programme individual project “Modernization of courts in Latvia”. Presentation by Mr Arturs Grickus, Project manager.
11.00. – 11.20. Coffee break
11.20. – 13.00. Presentation on Court Informative System and Data Distribution System by Mrs Jana Zemberga, Senior official of Court Information Unit of the Court and Land Registry Department.
13.00. – 13.30. End of the meeting
The peers were warmly welcomed by Mrs Branta, CEPEJ member for Latvia, and Ms Karlsone, CEPEJ national correspondent. It was on their initiative that the peer review visit took place and they dealt perfectly with the organisation of this event, thus contributing to constructive exchanges between the peers and the national authorities. This enabled the peers to familiarise themselves with the system for collecting and analysing judicial statistics and to have an exhaustive view of the main trends and reforms in the Latvian judicial system.
2) Structure of the Court administration and the data collection system
The Court administration, set up in 2004, is attached to the Ministry of Justice. It is responsible for the organisation and administration of the courts of first instance, the regional courts (acting as courts of appeal) and the land registry offices. More specifically, it draws up the budget for the courts and the land registry office and manages financial and human resources. It also provides IT and telecommunications facilities and any technical and material assistance which may be necessary.
It is responsible for passing on to the CEPEJ both data collected by itself and data from the following institutions: the Supreme Court, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Legal Aid Administration and the Ministry of Justice.
As regards in particular the collection of data for the “fair trial” section of the questionnaire, a computer system for managing and analysing the case-flow and the length of proceedings has been set up as part of the programme on “Modernising the judicial system in Latvia”, a co-operation project between Switzerland and Latvia (see below). The system includes a software programme which can be used to check at any given time the number of cases pending before or decided by a court and the breakdown of cases by type (civil, administrative and criminal) or by subject (e.g. by category of offence). It indicates the duration of each case from the first to the last level of jurisdiction. The system greatly facilitates the collection of this type of data.
In Latvia, the public prosecutor is independent from the Ministry of Justice. Consequently, the administrative structure of public prosecution offices is separate from that of the Court administration. This separation precludes uniform overall analysis of certain data relating to the length of criminal proceedings (see below).
3) Overview of the judicial system and major trends in judicial reform
At the first working session, the peers were given a detailed presentation of the Latvian judicial system and the main judicial reforms by Mr Lazdovskis, Secretary of State.
The Latvian judicial system is undergoing a large number of reforms designed to streamline it and make it more efficient (reorganisation of judicial districts, changes in the jurisdiction of courts etc.) while reducing costs (in particular by making more intensive use of IT and videoconferencing), the workload of judges (transfer of judges to the districts with the heaviest workloads, law on mediation) and the length of proceedings. Generally speaking, the economic crisis, whose effects on the judicial system are highlighted by the data contained in the latest reports (particularly in terms of a decline in judges and staff salaries and the legal aid budget), seems to be over and the authorities are confident that the economic recovery now under way will bring a significant increase in legal aid and a reduction in the length of proceedings.
The Latvian judicial system consists of three levels of jurisdiction. It is made up as follows: 35 courts of first instance, 6 regional courts, a Supreme Court and a Constitutional Court (to which individuals may apply directly in the event of a violation of their fundamental rights). The courts of first instance are organised in such a way that everyone has one within 50 km of their place of residence. Under a reform of the jurisdiction of the regional courts which is currently in progress, these courts will no longer be able to act as courts of first instance from 2014 onwards in respect of criminal cases. As to the civil cases, a reform is ongoing and it should take effect at the end of 2016. In addition to that, the judicial staff of the most congested courts is to be increased in 2014 (for example, the number of judges assigned to the Riga court is to be increased by ten). A 2009 law abolished lay judges. Lastly, court presidents have been given a stronger role. In this connection, a legislative reform was brought into effect in September 2013 with the main aim of reducing the length of proceedings and ensuring greater foreseeability of judicial timeframes. The president’s role is thus becoming increasingly important. At the beginning of each year he must set court objectives, in particular defining the standard timeframe for processing cases, and take the necessary measures to ensure that these objectives are met. Using the computer system, he monitors the case-flow, distributes cases among the judges, organises the court’s work and acts as a point of contact with the administration and the Ministry of Justice. In this connection, the visit to the Riga City Vidzeme Suburb Court (Riga first-instance court) and the ensuing exchange of views with its president and vice-president were deemed very useful by the peers. On that occasion, they were also able to see how the case-flow and, hence, case management by judges are monitored through the use of a software programme.
After an assessment at the end of their probationary period, judges are appointed by Parliament on the recommendation of the Judicial Council, an institution established in 2010. Starting from 1st January, 2013 the new model of evaluation of judges has been set and is due to end in 2016. Its purpose is to ensure that each judge’s career path is determined by criteria relating to competence, moral qualities, professionalism and efficiency. Under the evaluation system, all judges, whether they work in a court of first-instance or the Supreme Court, are to be evaluated every five years. Additional evaluations may be carried out in specific cases (such as when a judge is replaced or transferred). 145 judges (judges from district (city) courts, regional courts and district (city) courts land registry offices) have been evaluated during the year 2013. Evaluation is based on objective criteria: statistical data, case management, participation in training and research, structure of, and reasons for, judgments, and checks on the proper application of substantive and procedural rules. Evaluators may attend hearings, examine decisions and analyse data relating to each judge’s work. The Court administration is not entitled to interfere in the evaluation process, for which the Judicial Qualification Board has sole responsibility. Negative evaluation reports may be challenged before the Judicial Disciplinary Court. The Judicial Qualification Board shall provide a positive or negative opinion regarding the professional work of a judge. If a judge has received a negative opinion, the re-evaluation shall be performed within the time period specified by the Judicial Qualification Board, however, not later than within two years since the previous evaluation. If a judge has repeatedly received negative opinions regarding his professional work he shall be removed from office by the Parliament. A judge may appeal negative opinion of the Judicial Qualification Board before the Disciplinary Court, which may uphold the negative opinion of the Judicial Qualification Board without amendments and reject the complaint, or revoke the opinion and sent the materials for re-examination to the Judicial Qualification Board. Parliament has no power to impose disciplinary sanctions upon judges.
Two reforms have been adopted with the aim of reducing the volume of cases reaching the courts. First, a law on mediation, designed to promote the use of mediation, is due to come into force in mid-2014. The use of mediation will remain optional and certain fields, such as family law, will be specifically targeted. Secondly, the government has approved a reform of the arbitration system in order to strengthen it by reducing the number of cases and increasing user confidence in this system for settling disputes.
In 2009, Switzerland and Latvia embarked on a co-operation project aimed at improving the management and efficiency of the judicial system by developing technological facilities. The programme on “Modernization of courts in Latvia” has been financed to the tune of 85% by the Swiss authorities (around six million euros) and covers three main fields of action.
The first is videoconferencing and the system for audio recording of hearings. As the peers observed during the visit to the Riga City Vidzeme Suburb Court, a videoconferencing system has been installed in at least one room in every court and prison across the country and in the premises of the Court administration. Mobile facilities are available for other buildings such as prisons, State Forensic Science Bureau and prison hospitals. Videoconferencing helps to reduce costs, particularly as regards the transport of prisoners and the hearing of witnesses who are in another part of the country or abroad. Legislative amendments relating to videoconferencing recently came into force, but the more technical aspects of its use are not regulated and it is not obligatory. On average, in the court visited in Riga, videoconferencing is used for at least one hearing per week. Videoconferencing is also used for the organisation of meetings or training activities such as round tables, seminars and conferences. All hearing rooms are also equipped with an audio recording system. Starting from 1st January, 2014 usage of audio recording system is obligatory in civil cases and optional in criminal cases. Parties are entitled to obtain a copy of the recordings.
The second field of action consists of projects on “Improve cost management of the courts” and “Improve effectiveness of court procedures”, the purpose of the latter being to reduce the length of proceedings and establish e-services. Plans include the production of a handbook on the organisation of the court system as a means of sharing good management and organisational practices among professionals.
Lastly, there are two projects on “Improve direct access to the courts through use of new technologies” and “Improve information and service delivery to the inhabitants and business”. In this connection, a new portal (www.tiesas.lv) has been created for members of the public, giving them access to all judgments and decisions and enabling them to consult statistics on case-flows and the length of proceedings by type of case and by court, and to use electronic forms for submitting applications to the courts. Courts have also been equipped with 46 electronic kiosks from which the portal of the Court administration can be consulted. Lastly, court decisions were recently made available to the public on the portal web www.tiesas.lv.
4) Analysis of replies
Ms Karlsone gave an exhaustive analysis of the data collected in the last evaluation cycle. Her presentation was followed by a discussion with the CEPEJ member, Mrs Branta, and officials from the Court administration, including its director, Mr Edvins Balsevics, and the officials responsible for statistics, legal aid, and budget and finance.
The peers stressed their satisfaction at the generally excellent standard of the replies given in the last evaluation cycle. On the whole they were full and detailed replies. However, attention was drawn to certain areas requiring improvement with a view to the next exercise.
The peers noted that no data had been provided in the last cycle on the number of cases brought before the courts for which legal aid had been granted (question 20). No explanation was given, although this is a very important piece of information which is used to calculate the ratio of the number of cases to the budget allocated for legal aid.
In Latvia the Legal Aid Administration ensures access to legal representation and advice for low-income individuals and for other individuals who may be considered eligible on the basis of their income, assets or other relevant grounds. Moreover, the Legal Aid Administration ensures assistance in administrative matters, representation at the appellate level in asylum cases, in appeal procedures during the granting of asylum, as well as in proceedings lodged with a view to challenging a forced return decision. In the latter proceedings, legal aid may be requested at any time before a final judgment is issued on the matter.
Statistics regarding legal aid in civil cases and administrative cases are compiled according to different criteria (number of cases, financial means, etc.), because in this process different institutions are involved: the Legal Aid Administration and the legal aid provider2. There are difficulties with compiling statistics regarding legal aid in criminal procedures, because statistical data are not available to the Legal Aid Administration, as, in these kind of procedures, the accused is provided with the legal aid not by the Legal Aid Administration but by the office of the prosecutor. Legal Aid Administration makes payments to legal aid providers. There are statistics only with regard to the total number of notifications from the legal aid providers. Legal Aid Administration is considering the possibility of improving the statistics in order to provide more qualitative data for the next evaluation cycle.
The relief from court costs is decided by the court, so the statistics are available to the courts. However, the data is not compiled in statistical reports and there is also no statistical data on the conditions whereby individuals may qualify for relief from court costs.
The peers also asked for an explanation concerning court fees, given the significant increase both in absolute terms and in relation to the budget for the justice system as a whole. They also drew the authorities’ attention to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Marina v. Latvia, no. 46040/07, of 26 October 2010, in which a violation of Article 6 ECHR was found because of the failure to grant an exemption from court fees and the controversial interpretation of the related procedural provisions.
As regards the data on court fees, the authorities explained that the increase was due mainly to an increase in the number of cases brought. They explained that the system for exemption from court fees was separate from the legal aid system and that two different procedures were involved, which might make it necessary for a person who had secured exemption from payment of fees to subsequently request legal aid and vice versa. It was pointed out that a reform of the system is currently under discussion.
Lastly, the peers noted, with regard to question 38 on surveys aimed at legal professionals and court users, that the links to the websites had not been provided in the last evaluation exercise. The authorities said that they would provide the necessary links in the next cycle.
b. Case-flow management, length of proceedings and domestic remedies
On the whole, the level of detail in the replies is very good.
The peers pointed to some problems concerning the number of administrative cases, which is the same at first instance and on appeal (questions 91 and 97). It is important to give particular attention to these figures in view of the effects they have on the calculation of the clearance rate and disposition time.
The last evaluation report contained no data on cases relating to the land register. In his initial presentation of the Latvian judicial system (see above), the Secretary of State mentioned the recent reform of the land register. Under legislation enacted in July 2011, the land registers were integrated with the administrative structures of the courts of first instance, which will make it possible, in the next evaluation cycle, to have more precise information on the flow and length of such cases (questions 91, 97 and 99; for the reform, see question 44).
One specific issue concerns relations between the prosecution service and the Court administration. They do not have access to each other’s data-bases on case-flow management and the length of proceedings as these data-bases are not interconnected. According to the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, the starting point for calculating the length of proceedings at first instance is not when the case is first brought before the court, but the date of the “charge”, which is defined as “the official notification given to an individual by the competent authority of an allegation that he has committed a criminal offence", a definition that also corresponds to the “test whether the situation of the [suspect] has been substantially affected" (Eckle v. Germany, no. 8130/78, 15 July 1982, § 73 and McFarlane v. Ireland [GC], no. 31333/06, 10 September 2010). Integration of the respective data-bases, to an extent that respects the independence and autonomy of the prosecution service, would therefore be desirable (to be confirmed).
The peers also noted the lack of data on the number of cases regarding Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (question 86). The authorities said they had no case monitoring system concerning the case-law of the European Court. Lastly, the peers requested details concerning domestic remedies for excessive length of proceedings (question 37). In the replies to the questionnaire in the last evaluation cycle, it was stated that no remedy was available. However, it may be seen from the Court’s decision of 20 November 2012 in the case of Trūps v. Latvia, no. 58497/08, that the reform of the 2005 code of criminal procedure introduced the possibility for courts to discontinue criminal proceedings or reduce the sentence in case of excessive length of proceedings, which constitutes an effective remedy in criminal cases. The authorities confirmed the existence of this redress mechanism. The peers asked for further details to be provided in the next evaluation exercise.
During the peer review, the Latvian authorities organised visits to the Supreme Court and the Riga City Vidzeme Suburb Court, where, in particular, the peers were shown, in the offices of the court administration, the computer system for managing cases and recording proceedings and, in the hearing rooms, the operation of the videoconferencing system. A visit to the Court administration was also organised to present the project on “Modernization of courts in Latvia”, which is being carried out under a co-operation programme between Switzerland and Latvia (see above).
1 This process has been initiated by France; the Working Group on evaluation of judicial systems (CEPEJ-GT-EVAL) is entrusted with its implementation and its follow-up.
2 According to the State Ensured Legal Aid Law, the legal aid provider is a person with whom Legal Aid Administration may conclude a contract concerning the procedure for granting the legal aid (for example, advocates (lawyers), assistants to advocates (lawyers).