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EKRE persists in separation of powers argument

COMMENT PRINT ARTICLE
PHOTO: LIIS TREIMANN/PM/SCANPIX BALTICS

The Riigikogu faction of the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) has requested the Board of the Riigikogu form an opinion of statements by the president, the Estonian Association of Judges, and chief justice of the Supreme Court regarding a recent speech by EKRE member Martin Helme.

«The said officials and individuals have meddled in the routine work of the Riigikogu under the pretext of faction chair Martin Helme's speech in front of the parliament from March 20,» deputy chairman of EKRE in the parliament Henn Põlluaas explained via a press release.

Põlluaas said that MPs expect the board to adopt a clear position confirming the independence of the parliament and its members regarding the president and the chief justice's political statements that «ignore the Constitution, violate the principle of separation of powers, and are unbecoming of the offices in which they were uttered». The national conservatives want the board to express its position in the form of a public address.

Helme said on March 20 that he would like to see heads of justices Virgo Saarmets, Maret Altnurme, and Kaire Pikamäe to roll (the three Tallinn Circuit Court judges made a decision in January based on which Harju County government entered the first same-sex married couple into the Estonian population register – ed.). This utterance was criticized by President Kersti Kaljulaid, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Priit Pikamäe, and Chairman of the Riigikogu Eiki Nestor. Judges expressed their displeasure in a joint address.

Deputy Chairman of the Center Party, Chairman of the Riigikogu Legal Affairs Committee Jaanus Karilaid wrote in a comment to Postimees yesterday that while he does not believe Helme's utterance was an attack on judicial authority, it was an expression of political boorishness.

The courts were also criticized by the conservative party's council over the weekend, according to which arbitrary action by courts poses a threat to democracy. The council reiterated the party's position that judges and prosecutors should be elected for a fixed term.

Deputy Chairman of the Riigikogu social democrats Liisa Oviir said yesterday that changes EKRE is after would weather the foundation of judges' independence. “A judge's appointment for life is among the core guarantees of their independence. A judge cannot administer justice while thinking about how the decision will affect their career,” she said.

Lecturer of administrative law at the University of Tartu Ene Andresen wrote on Postimees' opinion pages yesterday that the principle of the separation and balance of powers, of which the EKRE faction chair wrongly accuses judges, gives the court, not MPs the final say in applying legislation.

«A society that enjoys freedom of speech, right of judicial review, scientific freedom, and other fundamental rights does not hold its judges to be above criticism,» Andresen said. «Even though it might not catch the public eye, judges' decisions are analyzed and criticized in appeals, letters of complaint, higher court rulings, scientific papers, and lecture halls all the time. As is customary for a civilized society, the public space has been reserved for matter-of-fact and thoroughly reasoned criticism.»

Head of surveys at polling company Kantar Emor, Aivar Voog, said that EKRE voters like the party's public antagonism with judges, but added that whether the case will have a lasting effect on the party's rating depends on how much attention the media will pay the subject.

Provided this incident will not be turned into a series, the effects will be short-lived. People need confirmation that the party they support is doing something, and this conflict surely served this purpose. However, whether EKRE's row with judges will gain the party votes is difficult to say.”

Voog added that rather the row has reassured voters the party already has.

Kantar Emor's next party popularity poll will be published in late April.

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