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Villu Kõve, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, gave to the Riigikogu an overview of courts administration, administration of justice and the uniform application of Acts. He said that the Estonian judicial system stood out at both European and global scale for its proceedings which were among the fastest and the most digitalised.

Kõve emphasised that the administration of justice continued to be carried out pursuant to the established procedure in Estonia: it ensured the fair and objective administration of justice, adjudication of court cases within reasonable periods of time, and people’s free access to the administration of justice and the protection of their rights. “The Estonian judicial system stands out at both European and global scale for its proceedings which are among the fastest and the most digitalised,” Kõve said. He said that, despite a few individual court cases where problems had emerged with the duration of the proceedings or public access to the materials of the court case, people’s trust in the judicial system was high. “Nearly all shortcomings and reproaches to the courts that have attracted wider attention concern a couple of very large criminal cases that make up a negligible percentage of the total number of court cases,” Kõve said.

In the words of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the harmonisation of judges’ and courts’ workload and spreading it out across Estonia had become one of the main issues of the past year. He said that various options had been discussed, like the consolidation of county courts into a single court, as well as a nationwide distribution of cases instead of the current principle of regional distribution. Kõve added that, in general lines, the idea of a more even distribution of the courts’ burden had found understanding within the system, but there were big disputes about more detailed questions concerning the constitutionality of the changes, as well as the role of judges in deciding on the division of their work, the holding of sessions in different regions, and the reorganisation of courthouses and the management of the whole system. “The first fruits of these discussions have reached the Riigikogu in the form of Bills by now.”

Kõve spoke in greater detail of the crisis caused by the coronavirus, and the emergency situation that had also come to courts as a shock. He said that, in spite of some voices calling for closure of courthouses and suspension of the administration of justice at the beginning of the emergency situation, courts had adhered to the principle that work had to go on, courthouses would remain open for proceedings, and court cases would be adjudicated while basic safety requirements were followed. “By doing so, the Estonian courts were different to the courts of several other European countries where the adjudication of numerous court cases was essentially suspended,” the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said.

In his words, the legal regulation for emergency situation established in Estonia provides for no specifications for judicial proceedings, and the negative impact of the lack of such specifications had largely become clear already in the first days of the emergency situation when gatherings of people had been banned but at the same time court sessions had to be held. “In order to prevent the virus from spreading among judges, court officers, participants in proceedings and other persons connected with the administration of justice, teleworking was applied in all positions where that was feasible. It was decided that as many cases as possible had to be adjudicated in written proceedings which could be done by teleworking thanks to the applications of the courts information system and the digital file,” Kõve said.

“To sum up, it can be said that, as a result of joint efforts, courts have been up to the task beyond expectations under the conditions of the emergency situation. This is also confirmed by the optimistic assessments that the chairmen of courts have given in feedback,” Kõve said.

In conclusion, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said that their greatest concern was if and how they would manage the likely spike in the number of court cases ensuing from the general proceedings on large criminal cases that had been postponed to autumn, and from the economic recession. “Hopefully we will be up to the task and the legislature will also contribute so that the regulation will be as reasonable and good as possible in terms of legislation,” Villu Kõve said.

During the debate, Hanno Pevkur (Reform Party) and Paul Puustusmaa (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) took the floor. Pevkur said that the real points of concern in the Estonian administration of justice had not been pointed out in the overview, and he was convinced that the Supreme Court was indeed the last line of defence in the defence of the Constitution. Puustusmaa noted that the report of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had shown that the judicial power, a mainstay of democracy and a bearer of the principle of the separation of powers, had showed the importance of this power in its complexity and in its processes.

The Riigikogu passed three Acts

Under the Act on Amendments to the Government of the Republic Act and Other Acts (formation of the Education and Youth Board, renaming of the Language Inspectorate as the Language Board) (163 SE), initiated by the Government, the Education and Youth Board will be formed in the area of government of the Ministry of Education, and the Language Inspectorate will be renamed as the Language Board.

According to the Act, the Education and Youth Board will be formed in the area of government of the Ministry of Education and Research. It will be formed on the basis of the services of the Foundation Innove, Archimedes Foundation, the Information Technology Foundation for Education, and the Estonian Youth Work Centre, a state authority administered by the Ministry of Education and Research. In connection with that, the activities that are of an implementational nature and are not related to policy making in the Ministry of Education and Research will also be transferred to the new Board. The State Shared Service Centre will begin to perform the tasks of accounting, salary calculation and personnel records as well as those of the 2nd level intermediate body for structural assistance. The Language Inspectorate, a government agency operating in the area of government of the Ministry of Education and Research, will be renamed the Language Board. The Language Board will continue to provide all the services currently provided by the Language Inspectorate. In addition, the language policy implementation activities in the Ministry of Education and Research and Archimedes Foundation will be transferred to the Language Board.

Priit Sibul (Isamaa) and Heidy Purga (Reform Party) took the floor during the debate.

79 members of the Riigikogu voted for the passage of the Act, two were against, and there were two abstentions.

The Act on Amendments to the Obligation to Leave and Prohibition on Entry Act and the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens (prevention of mass immigration) (110 SE), initiated by the Government, transposes Article 18 of the EU “Returns Directive”. It allows member states to change the requirements for detaining aliens in situations where an exceptionally large number of illegal immigrants arrives in a country.

In emergencies caused by mass immigration, the directive allows for longer deadlines to be provided for in national legislation for checking the lawfulness of the detention of aliens staying in the country without legal basis. It also provides that aliens staying in the country without legal basis may be detained outside detention centres, and that the requirement to ensure privacy may be abandoned when accommodating families. Restriction of the amount of services provided to illegal immigrants is also justified in an emergency.

In the opinion of the Police and Border Guard Board, a situation where Estonia must receive at least 3000 aliens in a short period of time is an emergency caused by mass immigration.

The Act enables to prevent immigration and transition of an exceptionally large number of aliens. It also enables to establish specifications in legislation under which, in emergencies caused by mass immigration, it is possible to deviate from the guarantees and services provided for for applicants for international protection and aliens staying in the country without a basis for stay.

64 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of passing the Act, one was against, and there were two abstentions.

The Act on Amendments to the Aliens Act (135 SE), initiated by the Government, establishes a digital nomad visa that would enable people who work location-independently to work in Estonia on the basis of a visa. A digital nomad visa may be a short-stay visa or a long-stay visa. The general conditions for granting a visa apply upon application for it. Although it is in essence a form of tourism, it is not tourism in the classical sense but working for a company in a foreign country.

The amendments are justified by noting that Estonia is one of the first countries in the world to enable digital nomads to apply for a visa for the purpose of teleworking. People who work online for example in the IT field, finance or marketing, at the same time travelling around in different countries, are called digital nomads. Digital nomads bring significant added value to a country because they consume goods and services and thereby have a positive impact on local enterprise.

A digital nomad can come to Estonia to telework only through a mediator who is then responsible for his or her stay here. At the same time, the general conditions for granting a visa apply to digital nomads. Among other things, they need to have sufficient financial resources to stay in Estonia.

The Act also provides for the obligations of a sponsor for employers who register aliens’ short-term employment. The application for a long-stay visa is also specified.

83 members of the Riigikogu were in favour of passing the Act and one voted against.

One Bill passed the second reading

The Bill on Amendments to the Foreign Service Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (45 SE), initiated by the Government, will harmonise foreign service with the principles of general public service.

For example, the current foreign service officials’ salary system will be made similar to that of other officials. The principles of the reimbursement of the costs relating to the payment of the foreign mission allowance and to long-term assignments abroad will also be changed.

The procedure for the assignment of specialised diplomats and non-staff administrative officials to foreign missions will also be amended, and the decision-making competence relating to the assignment, including appointment to posts, will be left to the sending ministry. Amendments will also bring greater flexibility to deciding issues at local level. The Bill will also reduce the expenses and the frequency of the acts connected with the issuing of diplomatic passports.

The explanatory memorandum notes that the amendments concern all officials employed in foreign missions and their family members, that is, approximately 800 people. The amendments will not reduce the total income of officials who are on long-term assignment abroad.

During the debate, Raimond Kaljulaid, Anti Poolamets (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Valdo Randpere (Reform Party) and Mihhail Lotman (Isamaa) took the floor.

The motions concerning the partners of officials were not approved in the vote on the motions to amend.

Four Bills passed the first reading

The first reading of the Bill on Amendments to the Fire Safety Act and Other Acts (120 SE), initiated by the Government, which had been adjourned due to the end of the working hours yesterday, was concluded.

Under the amendments, the competence of the private sector will be involved and used more in ensuring fire safety, and the conduct of the proceedings on building permits and authorisations for use will be sped up.

With a view to reducing carbon monoxide poisoning and deaths caused by it, carbon monoxide detector will become mandatory where solid fuel heating systems (oven, fireplace, kitchen range) are used. At present, a carbon monoxide detector is mandatory in dwellings where a gas appliance has been installed. Smoke detectors have been mandatory in every home, regardless of the type of heating, for ten years already.

In order to enhance the prevention work of the Rescue Board, an obligation to register heating systems will be established which will give the Board a thorough overview of heating systems and their working condition. The register data would also enable local governments to speed up the issue of building permits and use and occupancy permits for detached houses, outbuildings, cottages and garden houses. At present, there is not enough information on heating systems in the register of construction works.

Instead of the fire safety self-inspection report, in the future, owners of industrial buildings, warehouse buildings, office buildings and garages that meet certain criteria will have to organise a fire safety inspection at their facility that can be carried out by a fire safety specialist or expert who holds a professional certificate as provided for by law. The purpose of the amendment is to improve the quality of the inspection carried out at facilities, and to provide more thorough data to the Rescue Board.

With a view to enhancing the nature conservation aims and reducing fire risk, according to the Bill, in the future, it will be permitted to carry out controlled burning at landscape protection areas and the training areas of the Defence Forces and the Defence League. Due to this amendment, the Bill will also amend the Forest Act and the Nature Conservation Act.

According to the current Act, the alarms of the automatic fire alarm system must be transmitted directly to the Emergency Response Centre in some cases. According to the Bill, it will not be mandatory to transmit an alarm to the Emergency Response Centre if immediate information of the Emergency Response Centre and the commencement of quick evacuation in the event of a fire is ensured in the building, and the Rescue Board has given the relevant approval.

The aim of the Bill is to reduce the number of fire deaths, to increase the number of fire safe facilities, to raise the quality of fire safety services and to provide an overview of heating systems.

Peeter Ernits (Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction) took the floor during the debate.

According to the Bill on the Ratification of the Protocol amending the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (143 SE), initiated by the Government, the purpose of the Convention is to protect the inviolability of private life in automatic processing of personal data. The Convention was opened for signature in 1981. The technological development and the globalisation of information has brought about new challenges in the field of personal data protection, and therefore the Convention has also needed updating.

The Protocol establishes a legal framework to facilitate the cross-border movement of data as well as to ensure effective protection of personal data when they are processed. The regulations of the EU General Data Protection Regulation have also been taken into account in the drafting of the Protocol.

The Bill on Amendments to the Government of the Republic Act (187 SE), initiated by the Government, will make amendments to the Act to specify how the tasks in the field of the earth’s crust are distributed between the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.

Under the Bill, the field of earth’s crust resources will be included in the description of the area of government of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, and geological mapping and the ensuring of national geological competence will also be defined as its activities. The field will cover the main activities of the Geological Survey of Estonia, which is administered by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, as well as the existing posts in the Ministry that are in charge of coordinating these activities. Under the current Act, the issues relating to the activities related to the earth’s crust fall within the area of government of the Ministry of the Environment.

The task of the area of government of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications is to forecast the mineral resource need, to assess the socio-economic impacts related to mineral resources, to coordinate the research and development activities necessary for the use and development of the economic potential of the earth’s crust, to coordinate and finance the earth’s crust research, and to conduct and fund geological mapping.

The area of government of the Ministry of the Environment includes strategic planning (resource efficiency, pollution charges, reduction of waste generation), and the grant of permits for geological investigation, geological exploration permits and permits for extracting mineral resources, and other approvals and permits regarding the earth’s crust and the use and protection of mineral resources.

The Bill on Amendments to the Salaries of Higher State Servants Act (166 SE), initiated by the Faction Isamaa, the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction and the Estonian Centre Party Faction.

The Bill will introduce the concept of “emergency situation” into the Act which would also enable the coefficients applicable to salaries of higher state servants to be reduced during an emergency situation, in addition to the cases of increased defence readiness and a state of war. Under another amendment, the Riigikogu will be given the right to temporarily reduce the coefficients applicable to the salaries of all higher state servants listed in § 3 of the Act.

The sitting ended at 6.08 p.m.

Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian)

Photos of the sitting. (Author: Erik Peinar, Riigikogu)

The video recording of the sitting can be viewed later on the Riigikogu YouTube channel.
(Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)

Riigikogu Press Service
Veiko Pesur
Phone +372 631 6353, +372 5559 0595
E-mail veiko.pesur@riigikogu.ee
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