Constitutional court system
The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia establishes that justice shall be administered solely by the courts. The courts shall be independent in their activities and shall administer justice in accordance with the Constitution and the laws. According to the spirit of the Constitution the court system of Estonia forms a uniform whole, having the exclusive competence to perform the function of administration of justice and being separated from both the executive and the legislative powers in the performance of this duty.
Estonia’s court system consists of three instances: county and administrative courts are the first instance courts; circuit courts are the courts of the second instance, and the Supreme Court is the third instance. The formation of emergency courts is prohibited by the Constitution.
The structure of Estonia’s court system is one of the simplest in Europe. The peculiarity of the system lies in the fact that the Supreme Court performs simultaneously the functions of the highest court of general jurisdiction, of the supreme administrative court as well as of the constitutional court.
There are 242 judges employed in Estonia’s court system.
Yet, the administration of the courts in Estonia is not independent and separate from the executive power. The first and second instance courts are financed from the state budget through the budget of the Ministry of Justice. Courts of the first instance and courts of appeal are administered in co-operation between the Ministry of Justice and the Council for Administration of Courts. The Supreme Court, being an independent constitutional institution, administers itself
and is financed directly from the state budget.
According to the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is appointed to office
by the parliament Riigikogu, on the proposal of the President of the Republic. Justices of the Supreme Court are appointed to office by the Riigikogu, on the proposal of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Other judges are appointed to office by the President of the Republic, on the proposal of the Supreme Court.
Since 2006, the issues of integrity and independence of the court system have been discussed with increasing intensity. One of the momentous factors in the development of Estonia’s courts is definitely the fact that the judges have worded the principles of development of the court system. In February 2007, the General Assembly of Estonian judges (Court en banc) adopted the principles of development of the judicial system which envisage the merger of all three court instances into a single independent and self-administering whole, as an independent branch of power. In March 2008, the Minister of Justice established a working group to prepare the amendments to the legislation regulating judicial administration and organisation. The draft law was never introduced to the plenary of the parliament. In 2012, a discussion about the reform of the administration of courts has become intense again.
Principles of development of the court system
Resolution of the Court en banc of 9 February 2007
1. Estonia’s court system is a constitutional institution which, on the basis of the principle of separate and balanced powers, is independent in its activities.
2. The court system operates as an independent power, responsible for the functioning of the administration of justice on the basis and pursuant to the procedure established by laws. [...]
4. To assure the development of the court system observing fundamental values and functioning pursuant to established requirements it is important to regulate the duties and structure of the court system, to develop the financing and administration of the curt system, to deepen the self-managerial elements thereof, and to promote the personnel policy of the court system and training. [...]
7. F or further development of the principle of separate powers the administration of courts should be separated from the executive power. To guarantee the administration and development of courts an independent administrative authority is to be established, which is a part of the single court system in legal and organisational senses and subjected to the management model of the court system as a whole.
8. The court system is managed on the basis of the principle of self-management, which is exercised through the activities of the Court en banc, the Council for Administration of Courts, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, chairmen of courts, full court, director general of the administrative authority of courts
and directors of courts. [...]
15. The budget of the court system, separated from the budget of the Ministry of Justice, must become a stable all-inclusive budget of the system of administration of justice, the development priorities of which are established for at least three years. [...]