The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Priit Pikamäe gave to the Riigikogu an overview of courts administration, administration of justice and uniform application of Acts.
Pikamäe pointed out that, from the point of view of the judicial system, Estonia had become a civil society which was characterised by predominance of civil matters among cases. As crime continues to be on a downward trend in Estonia, and the number of administrative matters stays constantly low owing to the smallness of our administrative activities sphere, civil matters together with expedited procedures in the matters of payment order account for more than two thirds of all our matters reviewed in the court of first instance, looking at the last five years, according to court statistics.
In Pikamäe’s opinion, the problems arising in the course of civil procedure affected the functioning of the Estonian judicial system the most, and if the parliament eliminated them quickly, that would simplify the work of courts in the adjudication of a great majority of matters. In his today’s report, Pikamäe in fact focused on two larger ranges of problems in civil procedure: the shortcomings in the regulation of the payment of maintenance to children who are minors, and the ways to enhance civil procedure. He also briefly touched upon the deficiencies in the legislative process.
In Pikamäe’s words, it is regrettable that, due to the rigid regulation of the maintenance paid to children who are minors, the resolution of maintenance disputes in courts has become very time- and resource-consuming, even more so as cases of this kind should actually proceed quickly and efficiently precisely in the interests of children. It must also be taken into account that resolution of the disputes of maintenance for minors is burdensome also for parties to the proceedings, as it is very time-consuming and involves high legal aid costs for them, as well as for the state who incurs significant procedural assistance costs. At the same time there is no reason to say that disputes of this kind emerged “from an empty space” because court practice confirms that if a dispute arises over the maintenance paid to a child who is a minor, the reason is precisely that the scarce means of the parent are not sufficient to pay the minimum maintenance. Pikamäe stated that the court disputes over maintenance reflected a serious social problem, and its resolution required the intervention of the legislature. On the basis of the above, Pikamäe is of the opinion that the parliament should consider amending the regulation of the minimum maintenance paid to children who are minors, and should establish a more flexible method of calculating the amount of maintenance. The establishment of a needs-based minimum maintenance based on studies should be discussed.
The practice of civil procedure confirms that a large saving on the resources of parties to the proceedings and state resources could be achieved if every civil matter were referred to the type of proceedings that best corresponds to its essence at the level of law, either to action or to proceedings on petition, respectively. Pikamäe said that, when speaking of optimising the civil procedure rules on the basis of the abovementioned examples, it had to be kept in mind however that that could not be done at the expense of the fundamental rights of parties to the proceedings. He stressed that one of the central fundamental rights relating to judicial proceedings was definitely everyone’s entitlement to attend any hearing held by a court in his or her case. A too simplified system of serving procedural documents may lead to a situation where parties to the proceedings do not actually receive procedural documents served to them by public announcement. According to Pikamäe, for example, service of procedural documents by sending has caused many problems. The relevant provision of the Code of Civil Procedure allows for procedural documents to be served only by sending them out, without a confirmation of receipt.
Pikamäe drew attention to the fact that the approach that allowed to make great concessions in the serving of procedural documents but on the other hand produced new court cases thereby could only be regarded as unreasonable, because, not having received the documents, parties to the proceedings were forced to have recourse to the court again. Therefore, the parliament could change the current procedure for serving procedural documents at least to the extent that the abovementioned provisions would not be followed at least in the serving of statements of claim, petitions in matters on petition, amendments and supplementations of actions, and counterclaims.
Pikamäe also presented his observations on the legislative process in the context of civil procedure. In his words, it is elementary that, when amending a provision of a legal act, it must be kept in mind that the amendment should be in conformity with other legislation. However, this is not always adhered to. Pikamäe brought several examples where it was necessary to introduce amendments to Acts. Pikamäe stressed that a reasonable transitional period had to remain between the passing and coming into force of major legislative amendments. For example, in the case of the judicial system, that would allow for judges to be trained in a timely manner and for their activities to be reorganised.
During the debate, Martin Helme (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Jüri Adams (Estonian Free Party), Hanno Pevkur (Reform Party), Eiki Nestor (Social Democratic Party) and Mart Nutt (Pro Patria and Res Publica Union) took the floor.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
(NB! The recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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