The Country: Latvia is a country in the Baltic region of Norther Europe, its surface is 64,589 km2 and it has a population of 2,2 million inhabitants. It borders Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, Russia to the east, Bielorus to the southeast, and has a common maritime border to the west with Sweden. Woodlands cover over 40 % of this low-lying country.
Latvia is a democratic parliamentary republic established in 1918. The capital city is Riga. Latvian is the official language. Latvia is a unitary state, divided into 118 administrative divisions, of which 109 are municipalities and 9 are cities. Despite foreign rule from the 13th to 20th centuries, the Latvian nation maintained its identity throughout the generations. Due to the Soviet occupation in 1939-1940 and from 1944 through 1991, Latvia is home to a large number of ethnic Russians (26.9% of the population). The Republic of Latvia restored full independence on 21 August 1991. Latvia’s parliament, was again elected in 1993.
The Constitution. A freely elected Constituent assembly convened on 1 May 1920, and adopted a liberal constitution, the Setversme, in February 1922. The constitution was partly suspended in 1934 but reaffirmed in 1990. Since then, it has been amended and is still in effect in Latvia today. The 100-seat unicameral Latvian parliament, the Saeima is elected by direct popular vote every four years. The president is elected by the Saeima in a separate election, also held every four years. The president appoints a prime minister who, together with his cabinet, forms the executive branch of the government, which has to receive a confidence vote by the Saeima. The most senior civil servants are the sixteen secretaries of State. Latvia is a unitary state, currently divided into 110 one-level municipalities and 9 republican cities with their own city council and administration.
The Ministry of Justice is the first ministry in Latvia in the direct sense since it was established on the next day following the proclamation of an independent Latvian state on 18 November 1918. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for drafting and implementing of the public policy in the fields of state laws, administrative laws, civil laws, criminal laws and laws governing religion, as well as procedural laws. All legal acts drafted by other government institutions are subject to approval of the Ministry of Justice. Since Latvia has become a member state of the European Union the Ministry of Justice is responsible for securing Latvian representation at the European Court of Justice and harmonization of national legislation with legal acts of the European Union thus ensuring compliance with the rule of law in Latvia on both, the national and international level.
Functions of the Ministry of Justice are to develop, organize and coordinate implementation of state policy in the following areas:
Ensure representation of the Republic of Latvia in the Court of Justice of the European Union and representation of the Republic of Latvia in the European Judicial Network in civil, commercial and criminal matters.
The Judiciary. Alongside the legislative and the executive branches of government, Latvia has an independent judiciary, with a three-tiered court system. The Constitution states that judicial power is vested in district and city courts, regional courts, the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court and, in the event of war or a state of emergency, also in military courts. The Judicial Council is a collegiate body involved in formulating court system policy and strategy and improving the way the work of the court system is organised.
Ordinary courts: District and city courts are the courts of first instance in civil, criminal and administrative cases. District or city courts may have a land registry office. A land registry office manages land registers and considers claims for undisputed enforcement, debt recovery orders, and approval of statements of auction. Regional courts, as appellate courts, hear civil, criminal and administrative cases in a panel of three regional court judges.
The Supreme Court comprises a Senate, consisting of three divisions and one chamber. The Supreme Court is the court of appeal on points of law, unless the law provides otherwise. The full bench is the general assembly of the judges of the Supreme Court. It deliberates on immediate questions of interpretation of legal provisions. The full bench also elects members of the Disciplinary Tribunal which is convened to review the legality of the decisions of the Judicial Disciplinary Committee. Immediate questions of interpretation of legal provisions may be considered in order to ensure the uniform application of the law.
The Constitutional Court is an independent judicial body that considers cases of the constitutionality of laws and other legal acts within the remit laid down for it in the Constitution and the Law on the Constitutional Court. It also considers other cases referred to it under the Law on the Constitutional Court.
Latvia and EU
Latvia became a member of the European Union in 2004, and is a member of the Schengen area. In 2014, the euro was introduced as the currency of the country and a Latvian was named vice-president of the European Commission. There are 8 members of the European Parliament from Latvia.
In the first six month of 2015 Latvia held the presidency of the Council of the European Union. During the presidency, Latvia in cooperation with the EU Member States, the EEAS and the European Economic and Social Committee worked to achieve closer cooperation between the EU and Central asian Region. Latvia had set the following priorities: the review of the EU – Central Asia Strategy, the re-establishment of the post of EU Special Representative for Central Asia; the enhancing of cooperation in security and border controls, justice, economic relations, infrastructure and education.
Latvia and the EU Rule of Law Initiative
Since 2014, Latvia has participated in the EU Rule of Law activities by sending high level experts to the seminars and workshops arranged by the EU Rule of Law Platform, including the Conference of the Justice Ministers of the EU and Central Asian countries in October 2014, two seminars on local self-governance and the development of civil society in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (December 2015 and April 2016), and administrative procedures and administrative justice (Dushanbe, October 2015; Bishkek, December 2015; Astana, April 2016).
Latvia hosted the regional seminar on administrative law in Riga, on 27-28 May 2015, which was attended by administrative law specialists and judges from the five partner Central Asian States. Following the seminar, a day of visit of Latvian rule of law institutions was organised, including the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia, the Regional Administrative Court of the Republic of Latvia, and the State Revenue Service of the Republic of Latvia.
At the meeting of the Rule of Law Platform of 1 October 2015, Latvia became associated to the Rule of Law Initiative as EU Partner, a positive outcome of Latvia’s Presidency of the EU Council. The Ministry of Justice of Lavia and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia are represented at the Steering Committee of the Rule of Law Platform.