Latvian judges feel political pressure from Justice Ministry, study shows

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70% of surveyed judges feel they are under political pressure from the Ministry of Justice (TM), according to a recent survey on the independence of the judicial system, Latvian Radio reported May 10.

The survey conducted by University of Latvia's department of anthropology on behalf of the Judicial Council involved 335 or 61% of all Latvia's judges.

Ivita Putniņa, lead researcher of the department, said that 70.7% of the surveyed judges indicated that TM had a negative impact on the independence of the judicial system, and only 6.9% of the judges surveyed thought the Ministry had a positive impact on the independence of the judicial system.

25.4% of the judges believe that the independence of the justice system is adversely affected by the Cabinet, while 23.3% of respondents believe that the independence of judges is also adversely affected by the Saeima.

43.9% of the judges said that the independence of the judicial system was positively influenced by European institutions. On the other hand, 38.5% of respondents consider that independence of the judicial system is positively affected by the Court Administration.

Putniņa said that the study, aimed at evaluating the independence of judges and the judiciary in Latvia, concluded that although the independence situation is generally assessed as good, the judges do not feel safe. Security is also threatened by internal organizational factors, including hierarchical relations between bodies and judges themselves, and external factors.

The study also shows a relatively high presence of political influence, most often expressed directly in the pressure exerted by TM. The judges are concerned about the pressure of the parties, the quality of work of other law enforcement authorities, which also affects the work of the judges themselves.

Judicial Council Chairman Aigars Strupišs said that the pressure from the Ministry is felt in both training and financial matters. In his opinion, the judicial system needs to be distanced from executive action. For example, budget issues should be decided directly with the Finance Ministry without the Justice Ministry as an intermediary.

Strupišs said: "Currently this dependency is greatly influenced by the fact that too much depends on a particular minister. As I call it, the minister's random factor, it has a very significant negative impact on justice. Come a good, capable minister – things are mostly in order. A weaker minister comes – the justice system goes down. It relates to budgetary issues, training issues, various reforms. Unfortunately, not all of the reforms have brought fruit as expected, because there was no regular consultation with the Judicial Council and the judicial system as a whole."

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