EKRE’s special prosecutors idea hits first snag

Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg.

PHOTO: Konstantin Sednev

Having lowered excise duties on alcohol, the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) is looking to its other election promises. One such is the justice reform a central aspect of which is the introduction of special prosecutors. However, the national conservatives have rejected the initial plan put forth by coalition partner Isamaa’s Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg.

EKRE politicians were saying before the recent parliamentary election how Estonia should have the option of appointing special prosecutors to investigate certain high-profile cases. The idea is hardly revolutionary, with the investigation of Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign serving only as the most recent in a long line of suitable examples.

From outside the system

Key questions in creating the institution is who will get to appoint special prosecutors and who can serve as one. The national conservatives’ election program reads: “We will create the position of special prosecutor that can be called into existence also by the parliament.”

The process of signing a coalition agreement with the Center Party and Isamaa changed and complemented the plan: “We will introduce with the prosecution the possibility of appointing special prosecutors for a fixed term for the purpose of processing high-priority cases. We will ensure the independence of special prosecutors. A Riigikogu select committee will be able to propose the appointment of a special prosecutor to the attorney general.”

EKRE seems to prioritize the parliament’s role in deciding the special prosecutor’s person and tasks. That is also why EKRE turned down Justice Minister Raivo Aeg’s initial version of how special prosecutors could work.

Postimees’ information suggests the justice minister’s version revolved around the attorney general appointing special prosecutors from among existing prosecutors. That would be something entirely different from EKRE’s election promise. The party wants special prosecutors to come from outside the system.

The justice ministry and EKRE disagree on other aspects as well. For example, the powers of a special prosecutor in a situation where they do not work for the prosecution. Would the person have enough information on how different agencies work together on cases? How far could special prosecution investigations be taken – whether they would take cases all the way to court and as far as the eventual ruling or whether special prosecutors would serve as rapporteurs who hand materials over to another body once their investigation is concluded?

There are multiple unanswered questions, but it is clear EKRE is not happy with Aeg’s first draft he was expected to finish inside the government’s first 100 days. Representatives of neither coalition party were keen on going into details. Raivo Aeg said that the cabinet did discuss special prosecutors at its recent meeting. “We talked about it and decided to create a working group going forward,” he said.

A working group for phrasing

Initial information suggests the working group will be made up of Raivo Aeg, EKRE Minister of Foreign Trade and IT Kert Kingo and Center’s Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps.

Kingo said that the decision to create a working group followed the realization that the bill needs to be phrased accurately. That is why, in order to save the government’s time, the phrasing will be agreed in a separate working group that is looking for a time to meet.

“I cannot comment on the contents of draft legislation at this time,” Kingo said when asked what was confusing or unacceptable for EKRE in the phrasing drawn up by the justice ministry. She added that while the bill has no deadline, the working group wants to avoid dragging out the process.

The three members will have to find a way to create the institution of special prosecutor in a way to satisfy both the Ministry of Justice that is looking to retain as much of the current system as possible and EKRE that wants the opposite.