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Wednesday 08.04.2020 | Name days: Dana, Dans, Danute, Edgars

Justice Council supports delegating prosecutor general’s approval to the council

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Justice Ministry, prosecutor, selection, Justice Council, Supreme Court

Latvia’s Justice Minister Jānis Bordāns

On Monday, 16 December, the Justice Council decided to support Justice Ministry’s amendments to the law that would relieve the chairman of the Supreme Court of the duty to pick candidates for the post of prosecutor general and instead delegate this duty to the council in an open contest.

Other proposals from the Justice Ministry and minister Jānis Bordāns on improving candidate selection process caused some discussions but did not receive support.

The council’s decision is more of a recommendation and in any case amendments have to be discussed by the Saeima. Saeima Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee plans to decide on amendments on Wednesday, 18 December.

After the council’s meeting, Bordāns told journalists that by continuing work on amendments, the ministry takes into account the council’s conclusions. Additionally, work will continue in the Saeima. Deputies will carry their own arguments and other proposals.

The minister said he is satisfied the council has basically accepted the offer, that the Saeima will be presented with candidates by the Justice Council after an open selection process. «Debates were about candidate selection order and clearly debates may yet continue in the parliament,» adds the minister.

During the 16 December meeting, the council supported law amendments that provide for having the council interview prosecutor general candidates, pick the most appropriate one and forward them to the Saeima for approval. The council’s approved amendments provide for candidate searching taking place in an open contest. However, the council did not support the proposal to form an expert committee to assess candidates and their fitness for the position of prosecutor general.

The biggest discussions were caused by the ministry’s proposal to that provides for approving a person with 15 years of total experience working in position of academic staff of a college of law or as sworn advocate.

Some members of the council said in this case candidates for the position of prosecutor general could be picked from people who never passed judge or prosecutor exam, making their ability to perform duties questionable.

«If you are prepared to approve a person who has never worked in the judicial field, this means a rather interesting and revolutionary proposal,» said one of the members of the council and incumbent Prosecutor General of Latvia Ēriks Kalnmeiers.

Another council member, Riga Regional Court judge Juris Stukāns said academic staff even with 15 years of experience «stand nowhere near prosecutors and judges’. ‘Why do you intend to appoint lawyers and academic staff? If you want to change the subordination of the office of the prosecutor to the executive power, change the law,» said Stukāns.

Additionally, certain council members said that in accordance with the law officials of judicial power are appointed from a selection of officials who work in a specific institution, not outside it. This is how it is with the chairman of the Supreme Court of Justice.

Council member and Saeima Legal Affairs Committee head Juta Strīķe said with a system of picking management from within will not urge change. She said even heads of certain special services can be picked from the side, adding the proposal is supportable because it expands the range of potential candidates.

If the Saeima accepts Justice Ministry’s amendments, the Justice Council will be able to decide which candidate is more appropriate.

The justice minister agreed with Strīķe. He said that in accordance with the ministry’s offered solution candidates would be evaluated by a special committee and the final decision would be made by the Justice Council. Lawyers and academic staff would help expand the range of candidates, but the minister denied having anyone in mind to pick for the position of Prosecutor General of Latvia.

Although the council did not support Justice Ministry’s proposal to allow academic staff and lawyers to stand candidate, the council did support the proposal to expand the range of judges and prosecutors who are able to become candidates. «I will invite prosecutors and judges to find the courage and commitment to become candidates,» Bordāns told journalists after the meeting.

Read also: Exclusive | Latvian MP: Top justice figures, Bičkovičs and Kalnmeiers, working like this in private sector, would be sacked long ago

Bordāns believes the order for selections of candidates for the prosecutor general position should be changed. He believes selection of candidates for this post should be delegated to the Justice Council.

His proposal for the Law on the Office of the Prosecutor provide for contenders to submit their candidacy personally without mediators.

Justice Ministry believes that after the initial exchange of opinions it is clear there are no serious objections against changes, and now it is necessary to change the prosecutor’s selection process, delegating the choice to the Justice Council.

Currently the law states the Saeima elects the prosecutor general for a five-year term following the choice from the Supreme Court coordinated with Justice Council. No later than three months prior to the end of the term for the prosecutor general the Council of the Office of the Prosecutor, judges or prosecutors’ professional associations, as well as private persons can submit applications to the chairman of the Supreme Court.

Next year marks the end of the term for both the prosecutor general and the chairman of the Supreme Court: 15 June for Bičkovičs and 11 July for Kalnmeiers.

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