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Monday 20.01.2020 | Name days: Aļģirds, Orests, Oļģerts, Alģis

Are law amendments in the works because of slow pace of Lembergs case?

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Aivars Lembergs

Latvia’s Saeima has commenced work on amendments to the law to prevent time from being wasted with court debates and the accused person’s last word. Supporters of the initiative deny that amendments are specifically tailored for the so-called Lembergs’ case, but amendments may be used for it nonetheless, as reported by public broadcaster LTV programme De Facto.

The criminal case in which the suspended Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs is accused of committing serious crimes has been under review in court since February 2009 – more than ten years. So far 627 court hearings have taken place; for reasons yet unknown the 621 meetings have not taken place. Reasons for this include sickness of the accused, their defenders and judges, the programme compiles. «136 court sessions are planned for 2020.»

«It is not possible to voice any predictions when the court could announce a verdict in this case,» the LTV was told by Riga Regional Court’s Judge Irīna Jansone.

She explains that debates have to conclude first. Then the accused will be allowed to voice their last word, which is not limited by the law.

The programme notes that regional court Judge Juris Stukāns has submitted to the Saeima a proposal to terminate the length of debates and last word. He allowed that courts could adopt a specific time limit for debates and last word. The judge denies, however, that the proposal came to be as a result of exhaustion from the lengthy Lembergs’ case.

«The case is nearing its end – no one can change anything. The prosecutors have spoken, the two lawyers have spoken. There is only one lawyer and the last word left. This means there is nothing that can affect the process at this point,» said Stukāns.

De Facto, on the other hand, says Lembergs’ case is far from over. Only Lembergs’ lawyer is left in court debates, and there are approximately 300 episodes for Lembergs alone in the criminal case. Prosecutors spent approximately 80 sessions last year reading their speech.

Lembergs’ state-provided lawyer Genādijs Ivankins will commence his debate speech in the middle of January. He does not plan to make is last a month, De Facto explains. When asked if he has coordinated the length of his speech with his client, Ivankins said that «he [Lembergs] lives in another city. We have very little communication. I will go as far as to say – we have no communication».

Amendments to the Law on Criminal Procedure, which aim to apply a time limit for both debates and last word, have passed the first out of three readings in the Saeima.

Juta Strīķe told De Facto that amendments are not associated with any single criminal case, but they are «associated with all important litigations in which this instrument [debates] is abused».

Certain opposition deputies protested against amendments during a meeting of the committee reviewing them. One of them is a member of Lembergs’ political party – Gundars Daudze from the Union of Greens and Farmers. He believes this regulation would by anti-democratic, De Facto notes.

To avoid speculations that amendments are intended for a specific criminal case, chairman of the Latvian Council of Sworn Advocates Jānis Rozenbergs, who defends Ansis Sormulis in court, has proposed making so that amendments to not apply to criminal cases already in court. However, no such rule is planned, De Facto reports.

«I conceptually object to amendments developed to resolve a single specific problem instead of addressing systematic problems. I have not seen a single study or collection of opinions as to how many of the 8 000 cases the office of the prosecutor sends to court every year and in how many cases it is difficult to meet deadlines and avoid lengthy debates,» says Rozenbergs.

Aside from Lembergs’ case there are not many, if any, similar examples, the programme reports.

One such case is the digital television litigation. Debates of this case have continued for longer than a year, De Facto explains.

«DTV case’s debates took a long time, but this was necessary to cover such a large volume of information and meet deadlines,» says the case’s presiding prosecutor Monvīds Zelčs. According to him, it would not be right to limit debates, because there are no clear criteria of how time is measured.

Read also: BNN exclusive: Lembergs’ loss of a lawyer is no excuse to prolong trial, says prosecutor

The judge in the DTV case was the author of the aforementioned amendments Stukāns. He explains that the verdict must be backed by evidence, not statements made in debates. This is why there is no reason to listen to debates for years.

«Currently the law states the opposite – that length of debates is not limited. This means a person can spend a long time speaking on any topic and say nothing in the process,» says Stukāns.

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