TI-Estonia completes first phase of court monitoring study

The general attitude towards the Estonian court system is relatively positive, but the need for an independent oversight mechanism is perceived. This is the conclusion TI-Estonia made when summarizing the results of the first phase of its court monitoring project. Since the spring of 2008, TI-Estonia has attended 244 court hearings all over in Estonia – anonymously and with no prior notice - as part of the first phase of the project “Courts of Justice in Estonia – part of the power structure worth observing”. The aim of the project is to get information on how citizen-friendly and comprehensible are the courts of justice in Estonia. TI-Estonia’s opinion is that the initial results reflect a fairly positive attitude of people towards the court system. „The court procedure seems impartial for observers, confirmed by the fact that 84% of them said that the judge treated the concerned parties equally in the proceedings, “said TI-Estonia board member Asso Prii. „However the need for independent oversight mechanism is perceived, possibly because of the decline of authorities’ trustworthiness due to consistently emerging corruption charges,” said Prii. “In addition to that, transparency is not fully guaranteed in all court procedures, for instance in naming the assignees of bankruptcy.” The initial analysis is based on the questionnaires filled in by the volunteer observers who attended the court sessions. The next phase of the project will be concentrated on a legal analysis of corruption related cases. TI-Estonia stresses that it used volunteer observers intentionally in order to get a better understanding of the problems that are likely to occur to persons not so closely linked with the court system. “The first phase of TI-Estonia’s project is not to give specialist opinion on legal matters, but have a citizen-centred approach,” said Tarmu Tammerk, chairman of TI-Estonia. “When we have an open and trusted court system, we can say it eliminates some suspicions people might about the fairness of court proceedings.” In its conclusions, TI-Estonia also pointed out the problem with interpretation during proceedings and the postponement of hearings. (Editor’s note: 70% of the population in Estonia are Estonians, 30% are Russian-speakers, mainly ethnic Russians, court sessions often take place both in Estonian and Russian). 37% of TI-Estonia volunteer observers pointed out that they were not able to understand the content of the interpretation at hearings. TI-Estonia believes that low quality intepretation might jeopardize the parties’ right to properly participate in their own hearing. Postponing the beginning of hearings without any apparent reason brings up some questions. Also some reluctance was encountered by the volunteers in some courts in guaranteeing them access to court sessions. TI-Estonia presented the initial results of the project at a roundtable meeting in Tallinn on the 16th of December, attended by the representatives of courts, law firms, chancellor of justice bureau and other institutions with interests in the court system. The roundtable was also attended by NGOs and other interested parties. In the next stage of the project, due to be carried out in 2009, TI-Estonia will make specific proposals to improve the court system. Legal experts and representatives of the court system will be involved. The project “Courts of Justice in Estonia – part of the power structure worth observing” is financed by the Estonian NGO Fund. The support of EEA and Norwegian financial mechanisms to Estonian NGOs is intermediated by Open Estonia Foundation. Preliminary summary of the project’s first phase is available on TI-Estonia website www.transparency.ee Further information: Asso Prii, TI-Estonia board member, Asso.Prii@transparency.ee, tel +372 6844 074, +372 55 646 371 (mobile) Tarmu Tammerk,TI-Estonia chairman, Tarmu.Tammerk@transparency.ee, tel +372 50 15 880