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An attorney-general missing the courtroom

COMMENT PRINT ARTICLE
PHOTO: Jaanus Lensment

As advised by justice minister, current Chief State Prosecutor Lavly Perling was appointed new Attorney-General by government yesterday, having last week secured green light by legal Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu. Ms Perling entered office today.

So what will now change in prosecutor’s office, on your first day in office?

No major change as compared to my working day yesterday. Even so, prosecutor’s office indeed is in need of change. Thus far, I have told all partners and investigative bodies that there will be no strategic agreements before prosecutor’s office has a head. Now, it may begin.

Begin what?

I have said that in addition to national priorities, what also matters is work at community level. My priorities are criminal procedures related to children, the economy and organised crime.

Meanwhile, there’s a need to agree activities on local level, like in Elva or Haap­salu. The cases that are disturbing the communities there. Ideally for me, at least once a year there’d be a local level meeting of the local prosecutor and criminal department head, to agree what is bothering their local community and what to do to change that.

Makes no sense, does it, for a small South-Estonian town to speak about the national priorities of drug and human trafficking. The locals are bothered by someone setting basements on fire, someone stealing, and someone harassing old people the day they draw their pensions. In the community, the priorities may be totally different and these need to be agreed.

To have a more meaningful cooperation …

It is obvious at the moment that Central Criminal Police corruption crimes bureau is sending their investigators to operate in counties. Here, we ought to me better synchronised. Meaning: if the police is sending good investigators to deal with hard stuff, prosecutor’s office needs to send a competent prosecutor to support them over there. It cannot be that we hand then this young and fresh prosecutor who is just learning to do the job. On the contrary, we must give them our best.

Or, to be even more definite: Tax and Custom Board is expecting tax crimes to be processed quicker. We will need to sit down and see, what, if, and how can be done. These issues need to be tackled right away.

As justice minister Andres proposed you run for the office, we hear you first said no.

Actually, I had the chance to think about it before the minister made the proposal. I had been talking about it with the former Attorney-General Norman Aas. Naturally, my thinking was quite negative to begin with.

Why?

I did not know if I had the strength for it. For me, prosecutor’s office is a weighty agency which I’d like to prosper and have a staff that is well respected. As also having people who would seriously consider the essence of what they are doing. Not that I just do what they hand me over the door. That I send this stuff to court and go there myself. I’d like for a prosecutor to really think about what his work is about – that when I go to court, I’m representing the Estonian state there. If I process something, I’m taking very important decisions.

And as I started to feel that perhaps I do have the strength to do this very thing: that the cooperation with police would be like we’d be one team. And how to arrive at a place where a prosecutor as the head of the investigations will really know what he is leading, not just being the formal leader. Then I arrived at saying yes.

How much did it bother you that there were these strong stands that prosecutor’s office would need a leader from without?

Well the idea isn’t bad in itself. Like a second wind. I admit it could be very good. On the other hand, leaders from within have their strengths. Desiring to change something in an agency, a leader from within knows best how to do that. He knows the levers to pull, and the ways to change things. A person from without will need time to get a hang of what the system is like, and how to arrive at changes.

The fact was, no-one wanted the job ...

That is something to think about: how could it be that many jurists did say no. Theoretically, it ought to be a challenging job for any jurist. I do not dare to point out the reasons.

But I do dare to point out that maybe it was being said too forcefully that there was no-one at all to be chosen from within the prosecutor’s office. And that at any cost someone needed to come from without. That message created a feeling in people that if you are a diligent prosecutor, doing good things and reach the courts with them, you still need to consider there will be a lid on your career, as if. That from a certain level you can’t go on. That was sad to hear.

Now, as Attorney-General, will you no longer be speaking in court? You could.

Theoretically I do of course. This was another reason I said no at the beginning. My heart is in the courtroom still. I did come here to work as court prosecutor and we did discuss that as well. As Attorney-Prosecutor, may I keep going to court? There are the countries where that happens. I have not taken the final decision yet.

The risk would be that my critics will ask: who is in charge of prosecutor’s office while you are in court? The other question will be: will that not mark the court case? With totally neutral cases, maybe the risk would not be that big.

What is a neutral case?

I think most crimes are neutral.

A case of treason with Attorney-General in charge would look too much like inquisition, I guess?

I don’t agree with the word, but I get the idea. Yes. Let’s take Veronika Dari’s (a girl killed by stray bullet while going to school – R. B.) killing, I don’t know … Maybe in such cases Attorney-General could still attend as prosecutor. I think time will tell. But one thing I’m hoping for – someday I’ll be back as prosecutor in courtroom.

Let me bring a currently relevant example. There’s this criminal case investigated for years; the investigators do have indirect evidence concerning the accused and the knowing that additional evidence will never come. The investigators want to take it to court. The prosecutor argues that, not wishing to lose out in court. Should «attempts» like that be encouraged?

A prosecutor can only go to court if personally convinced – I have got the evidence. I personally have never gone to court with a case where I’m not convinced and do not believe the person is guilty.

But … I have told my colleagues what should not be done. They should not be overly afraid. Just for the fear of losing, we cannot avoid going to court. And if the court judges the person not guilty, that ought not to be taken as condemnation of the prosecutor.

You were at parental leave when the instantly famed regulation was published – decision to terminate investigation of Reform Party financing. As prosecutor, would you have published that?

This was asked of me at every meeting with parliamentary factions. I answered citing Märt Rask (former justice minister, creator of Reform Party, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court – R. B.): «An advocate general’s ethics include never commenting a case the evidence of which you haven’t personally seen.»

Answering the question in the overall context, that to what extent the disclosure of the documents is justified, then here applies the aspect that we need to consider the interest in the public. While not forgetting about the basic rights of all the people reflected in the regulation. I cannot answer if disclosing this very document was good or bad.

In the fresh school shooting case, the prosecutor’s office acted very untraditionally, disclosing at the early stages of investigation a string of data which otherwise would never be done.

This will surely not be the case the whole time. In this case, disclosure of criminal procedure data is substantiated as, competing with the interests of the criminal procedure, it is even more important to consider the right of the public to quickly learn what happened and why, to restore feeling of security.

Lavly Perling

•    Married, mother of three

Education

•    1993–1997 University of Tartu, law faculty

•    1991–1993 Hugo Treffner Gymnasium

Career

•    2007 – 2014 Office of the Prosecutor General, Chief State Prosecutor

•    2005 – 2007 Northern District Prosecutor’s Office, Chief Prosecutor

•    2004 – 2005 Viru District Prosecutor’s office, Chief Prosecutor

•    1998 – 2004 Tallinn Prosecutor’s Office, Prosecutor

•    1997 – 1998 Tallinn Prosecutor’s Office, Assistant Prosecutor

•    1996 – 1997 Tallinn Prosecutor’s Office, candidate for Assistant Prosecutor

•    Best-known cases: cargo ship Arctic Sea seajacking investigation (underway), traitor Herman Simm’s proceedings, Bronze Night organisers proceedings (were judged not guilty).

Source: PM

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