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The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Priit Pikamäe presented a report to the Riigikogu and gave an overview of courts administration, administration of justice and uniform application of Acts.

In his speech, Pikamäe focused on constitutional review. “The year 2013 will remain in the history of administration of justice as the year with the greatest number of cases adjudicated by way of constitutional review so far. On the other hand, several important generalisations can be made from the cases reviewed last year that can be taken into account in the legislative process,” Pikamäe said.

He explained that 2013 had been a record year in the sense that the 66 cases that had been adjudicated were the greatest number of cases reviewed in the constitutional review proceedings so far since the re-establishment of the Supreme Court.

Nearly 60% of these cases, that is, 40 had been commenced by way of specific verification of the conformity of legal provisions, that is, they had been submitted to the Supreme Court for hearing for assessment of a constitutional issue that had arisen in the adjudication of a case in one or another court instance. Cases of abstract verification of the conformity of legal provisions were reviewed in three proceedings in total. All these proceedings were commenced by the Chancellor of Justice. The President of the Republic did not turn to the Supreme Court with any request last year.

Of the total of 66 cases reviewed in the constitutional review proceedings, the request was granted, that is, the legal provision mentioned in it was declared to be in conflict with the Constitution on a total of 33 occasions, and the request was dismissed on 18 occasions. Also, the Supreme Court reviewed 17 election complaints last year.

Pikamäe pointed out problems to which the legislature should pay attention. They are the transfer of the function of administration of justice to an institution which is not a court and where there is no judge, and mandatory pre-trial procedure. “In order to reduce the workload of the court system, the legislature has delegated the function of initial resolution of disputes to an institution other than court in several areas,” Pikamäe said.

He continued with examples showing that, in some cases, for example in misdemeanour procedure, the competence of pre-trial review of cases has been given to the executive power. The Competition Authority, but also for example the labour dispute committee, the lease committee and the Public Procurement Review Committee can also be placed in the same line. “Unfortunately it must be admitted that the general principles of the activities and the institution and guarantee issues of these bodies, as well as the possibility to later challenge in court the decisions made by them are regulated differently in different spheres,” Pikamäe found.

“I think that the time is ripe for considering whether a general regulation should be created for the bodies established for extra-judicial adjudication of disputes that would subject such institutions to uniform operating principles, taking into account the possibilities of persons to have recourse to a court later,” Pikamäe said.

In his speech, Pikamäe also focused on high court fees, but he also mentioned the absence of a support structure of the Riigikogu as a problem.

In Pikamäe’s words, there is a general worrying tendency that the power of the parliament is decreasing towards a pattern of more central governance of the executive power. “The fact that different areas of life are becoming increasingly more specific, which in turn requires increasingly more special knowledge for making necessary decisions in them, undoubtedly also has a role here. Unfortunately, in our constitutional evolution, the latter has mainly concentrated to the executive power, leaving the parliament aside.”

“From time to time there has been talk about the strengthening of the support structures that support the members of the Riigikogu in their work, but unfortunately these plans have not yet materialised to a decisive degree,” Pikamäe said. He added that, “paradoxically, nobody else but the parliament itself can change this situation.”

Representatives of factions took the floor after the report. Rait Maruste who took the floor on behalf of the Estonian Reform Party Faction said that a large part of court administration resources were still going to activities not essentially related to administration of justice, such as the keeping of registers or the search for participants in proceedings, and the activities related to the execution stage of decisions. “Also, tendencies towards the court system being too closed and sometimes excessively sticking to legal positivism and attaching too much importance to formal legality can be observed,” Maruste said.

In Maruste’s words, people trust the court system and consider it independent. The time limits for proceedings are generally short as compared with the rest of Europe, and court is considered not very corrupt. Maruste approved of Pikamäe’s proposal to create a single general regulation for the bodies for resolution of pre-trial disputes. He also agreed with the proposal to give parliamentary factions the right to commence constitutional review proceedings.

Tarmo Tamm took the floor on behalf of the Estonian Centre Party Faction and criticised the competence of courts and the quality of the administration of justice. Neeme Suur took the floor on behalf of the Social Democratic Party Faction and spoke of decriminalisation. Marko Pomerants took the floor as the representative of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction.

On Thursday, the Riigikogu passed (66 votes in favour, 1 abstention) the Act on Amendments to the General Part of the Economic Activities Code Act and Amendments to the Act on Amendments to and Implementation of the Maintenance of Law and Order Act (573 SE), initiated by the Government, which eliminates inaccuracies in the General Part of the Economic Activities Code Act, as well as the Maintenance of Law and Order Act, due to enter into force as of 1 July.

Among other things, the Act specifies the application of the General Part of the Economic Activities Code Act to the professional activities of advocates, trustees in bankruptcy, patent agents, sworn translators and auditors, and the definition of the specialist in charge in the field of construction. It also specifies, for example, the application for an activity licence and the activity licence obligation in different fields.

The General Part of the Economic Activities Code Act which was passed in the Riigikogu in 2011 will enter into force as of 1 July this year. It reforms the activity licences of undertakings and provides for replacement of the current registrations of economic activities.

The Act due to enter into force will repeal the Register of Economic Activities Act and, in the future, economic activities will be restricted through the activity licences of undertakings, and the notification obligation.

The Bill on Amendments to § 20 of the Medicinal Products Act (400 SE), initiated by the Riigikogu Social Affairs Committee, passed the second reading in the Riigikogu. Its aim is to ensure consistent availability of medicinal products for Estonian patients and to avoid situations where, due to uncoordinated export, medicinal products of major importance are not available in wholesale and in pharmacies in Estonia during an indeterminate period. At the same time, the restriction on the export of medicinal products includes only exceptional situations where unexpected rapid changes have occurred in illnesses or in the marketing of the medicinal product as a result of which a risk of interruption of treatment of patients arises. The right to prohibit the export of a medicinal product will be granted to a national competent authority, the State Agency of Medicines.

The verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian).