2nd tier court overturns termination of proceeding re Savisaar

Edgar Savisaar.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

The Tallinn Circuit Court has overturned a ruling of the first-tier Harju County Court by which a criminal proceeding concerning former mayor of Tallinn and ex-leader of the Center Party Edgar Savisaar was terminated.

The appellate court found in a decision announced on Tuesday that the termination of the proceeding concerning Savisaar on the grounds of his health condition had been premature and sent the materials of the case back to the county court for the resumption of proceedings.

The second tier court pointed out that expert surveys have been conducted on two occasions to assess the health condition of Edgar Savisaar. The panel of experts has on repeated occasions, despite the chronic illnesses that Savisaar has been diagnosed with, declared his health condition to be such that enables him to participate in court sittings and serve a punishment should he be convicted. According to the appellate court, the differing opinion taken by the first-tier court as basis for its decision can not overturn the opinion of the majority of the panel of experts.

"As such, it has to be viewed as a clear and unequivocal minority opinion of the expert commission," the appellate court found.

The endocrinologist who dissented from the rest of the panel of experts said that Savisaar is unable to participate in court sittings because increases in blood sugar and blood pressure caused by stress are difficult if not impossible to prevent in courtroom. Contrary to the opinion of the expert who dissented, the expert commission was of the opinion that blood pressure and blood sugar in a patient suffering from hypertension and diabetes can be kept within the limits of the norm through appropriate use of medication and observance of a prescribed diet. The committee of experts additionally observed that prompt medical assistance must be ensured for the accused during sittings of the court.

The court also said that it has no reason to believe that after the conduct of the expert survey some new and negative factor has been revealed in the health condition of Savisaar which could overturn the findings of the expert surveys conducted to date and justify the termination of criminal proceedings.

When it comes to the right of contestation, according to the circuit court, the ruling of the county court is contestable because otherwise a questionable situation may occur where after the termination of a criminal proceeding on the grounds of a person's health condition by mistake that mistake can not be corrected later. Therefore the circuit court deemed the ruling of the first tier court to be contestable.

The Harju County Court ruled on June 5 to terminate the criminal proceeding concerning the former mayor, who stood accused of corruption and economic crimes, citing bad health of the accused and saying that the ruling is final and not subject to contestation.

The Office of the Prosecutor General did not agree with the court's decision and decided to contest it. The second-tier court accepted the appeal of the prosecutor's office and decided that the case should be reviewed in written form. The court ruling was announced at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

The substantive argument of the prosecutor's office in contesting the ruling of the county court was that two expert surveys on the health of Edgar Savisaar have been conducted during the past year, which both have concluded that Savisaar is fit to participate in court sittings. Therefore it remains unclear to the prosecutor's office why the court based its ruling on the opinion of the only expert who dissented and one dispatch of an ambulance crew.

Lead Public Prosecutor Steven-Hristo Evestus said in June that according to the prosecutor's office, the court left aside without justification the expert opinion of six doctors who conducted the expert survey and did not explain in a convincing manner why the court found that the expert survey in its final conclusions is not to be taken into consideration by the court and Savisaar is not able to attend trial.

"Also during the court's last sitting, the accused stayed in Jogeva hospital again and no official document concerning the reasons of the stay in hospital was presented in the courtroom," Evestus said. "In addition, this indicates that for the period of the conduct of the final court sittings the accused has been placed in one specific medical institution, which requires additional explanation."

"The prosecutor's office fully agrees that in certain cases termination of criminal proceedings due to an extremely difficult health condition of a suspect or an accused is justified. In the present case, however, the county court has conducted no procedures to question the doctors who conducted the expert survey to get more clarity on the reasons and grounds for the dissenting opinion. Likewise, the court has not given consideration to creating other additional conditions that would enable the trial to continue. In conclusion, the prosecutor's office finds that the decision on termination is not substantively grounded and the leaving aside of the main accused should be explained especially convincingly by the court," Evestus said.