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Challenges in the implementation of individual constitutional complaints are discussed in the bilateral conference of Lithuanian and Latvian Constitutional Courts

30-09-2021

On 30 September – 1 October, the Constitutional Court organised the 16th annual bilateral conference “Challenges in the Implementation of Individual Constitutional Complaints” of the justices of the Constitutional Courts of Latvia and Lithuania.

The friendship between the Constitutional Courts of Lithuania and Latvia has been lasting for 25 years. The cooperation started in 1996, after the establishment of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia. Since 2000, work experience has been shared in the meetings of justices and, since 2002, the annual bilateral conferences of justices have been held. During these events, the participants exchanged their experience, addressed the relevant issues of constitutional jurisprudence, sought ways to solve problems arising in constitutional justice cases, and discussed the constitutional consequences of the adopted decisions.

The President of the Constitutional Court, Danutė Jočienė, recalls that the last bilateral conference took place in Riga in 2017; therefore, by mutual agreement of the justices, it was decided to renew cooperation and invite the colleagues to Vilnius.

“The topic of this conference has been dictated by what is now relevant to us in Lithuania – we wish to gain experience from Latvian colleagues, who, during the period of 20 years of the existence of the individual constitutional complaint institution, have gathered extensive experience and have willingly shared it with us”, Danutė Jočienė says.

The conference is attended by the justices of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania: Danutė Jočienė, Elvyra Baltutytė, Gintaras Goda, Vytautas Greičius, Giedrė Lastauskienė, Vytautas Mizaras, Algis Norkūnas, and Janina Stripeikienė. The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia is represented by its President Sanita Osipova, Vice-President Aldis Laviņš, and Justices Gunārs Kusiņš, Jānis Niemanis, Artūrs Kučs, and Anita Rodiņa.

The first day of the conference is dedicated to discussions on the main topic – the implementation of individual constitutional complaints.

In her report, the President of the Constitutional Court, Danutė Jočienė, emphasises that the consolidation of individual constitutional complaints is a very important step for every state under the rule of law seeking to protect constitutional human rights and freedoms more effectively by providing a new legal remedy – the right to file an individual constitutional complaint with the Constitutional Court. Moreover, the possibility for persons to directly address the Constitutional Court makes it possible to identify shortcomings in the legal system more effectively and to faster remove from the legal system the provisions that are unconstitutional and whose constitutionality is not challenged before the Constitutional Court by other entities referred to in the Constitution. The President of the Constitutional Court notes that, despite a significant increase in the workload of the Constitutional Court, the dilemma of a well-functioning Constitutional Court and an effective mechanism for the protection of human rights has been successfully resolved so far.

“It is particularly important that, although the model of abstract (and rather narrow) constitutional review is applied in Lithuania, nevertheless, once the Constitutional Court resolves cases instituted following individual constitutional complaints, its decisions become relevant not only to the petitioners who have applied to the Constitutional Court, but also to other persons in a similar situation, as a legal act declared unconstitutional is removed from the legal system after the adoption of such a ruling of the Constitutional Court and may no longer be applied. Thus, the importance and significance of individual constitutional complaints is no longer questioned by anybody. However, it may still be considered whether Lithuania has chosen the optimal model of individual constitutional complaints and whether it is not too limited in terms of human rights protection. The question also arises as to whether it is for the Constitutional Court in its full composition to decide on all issues of the admissibility of individual constitutional complaints, when there is a different model in other countries, including Latvia, and, in the European Court of Human Rights, the admissibility of petitions is decided, in principle, by a single judge. Thus, there are indeed quite a lot of topics for discussion; I think that they could be discussed not only in this hall, but also in academic environment, as well as examined in scientific literature”, Danutė Jočienė says.

In his report “Criteria for the admissibility of a constitutional complaint”, the Vice-President of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia, Aldis Laviņš, emphasises that, also in his country, when applying to the Constitutional Court with an individual constitutional complaint, the applicant must give arguments concerning the violation of his or her rights and must have exhausted all legal remedies. However, in Latvia, the mandatory time limit of six months is established for filing an individual constitutional complaint with the Constitutional Court.

“As the frequent ground for refusing to accept a constitutional complaint for consideration is a missed time limit, this issue is quite often discussed. On the one hand, the established time limit of six months for filing an individual constitutional complaint is considered to be proportionate and long enough for the person to prepare and submit a constitutional complaint. On the other hand, if, due to the objective circumstances beyond his or her control, a person misses a time limit, as for example, for medical reasons, a person fails to prepare a complaint in time, could the Constitutional Court nevertheless decide to accept this complaint? However, this is only an issue for discussion, because so far neither the panel nor the Constitutional Court has decided on whether it is possible to accept a complaint if the time limit has been missed, even though there are a number of such applications”, Aldis Laviņš notes. It should be noted that the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia consists of seven justices. The applications are examined and decisions on instituting a case are usually adopted by a Constitutional Court panel, which is composed of three justices appointed to the panel for one year. The decision to institute a case or to refuse to institute a case is not subject to appeal.

The agenda of the conference also includes an overview of the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Courts of both countries of the last years. The report by Justice Gintaras Goda of the Constitutional Court provides an overview of cases in which a new official constitutional doctrine was formulated or which caused the greatest resonance in society.

In the report delivered by Justice Anita Rodiņa of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia, the general tendencies of this Court are discussed and the jurisprudence of recent years is presented. Attention is drawn to one case related to restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this case, the Constitutional Court assessed the legal norms whereby, by means of a law adopted by the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia, the organisation of gambling during the state of emergency was prohibited. The applicants disputed that, according to the effective legal regulation establishing the actions of the state during the state of emergency, such a restriction could only be imposed by the Cabinet and not by the Saeima. The Constitutional Court held that, during the state of emergency, the established special powers of the Cabinet have no impact on the powers of the Saeima to act as the legislature. The Constitutional Court declared the prohibition, during the state of emergency, on the organisation of gambling in physical locations where gambling is organised as justified; however, it recognised that the restriction on the operation of gambling in the interactive environment was disproportionate and unconstitutional.

Following the discussions in the conference hall, an official meeting of the President of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, Danutė Jočienė, with the President of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia, Sanita Osipova, and Vice-President Aldis Laviņš, is scheduled.

The President of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, Danutė Jočienė, hopes that the cooperation between both Courts will strengthen and that, in addition to the exchange of experience, the Courts will work together to achieve the best possible protection of constitutional values.