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Guide to Latvian Legal System and Legal Research

 

By Baiba Bebre and Ligita Gjortlere

 

Baiba Bebre, LL.M. is the Legal Research Adviser of the Law Library of the Riga Graduate School of Law (RGSL); Ligita Gjortlere, M.Soc.Sci, is the Head of the Law Library of the RGSL.

 

NOTE: This a thorough revision of an older article  published on Globalex.

 

Published November/December 2012

 

Table of Contents

1. Introduction to Latvian legal system

1.1.   Historical overview

1.2.    Sources of law

1.3.   Hierarchy of legal acts

2. State order and division of power

2.1. The legislative power

2.2. The Executive power

2.3. The judicial power

3. Legal education and legal profession

3.1. Legal education in Latvia

3.2.Legal professions in Latvia

     3.2.1. Regulated legal professions and recognition of professional qualification

     3.2.2. Advocates

     3.2.3. Notaries

     3.2.4. Judges

     3.2.5. Bailiffs

     3.2.6. Prosecutors

4. Legal resources

4.1. Legislation

     4.1.1. Printed sources

     4.1.2. Electronic sources

     4.1.3. Translation of legal acts into English

4.2. Courts and case law

     4.2.1. Printed sources

     4.2.2. Electronic sources

4.3. State institutions

4.4. Legal research and legal updates

4.5. Law libraries

4.6. Legal profession

4.7. Legal education

4.8. Business sources

 

1. Introduction to the Latvian legal system

 

1.1. Historical overview

The Republic of Latvia is a parliamentary state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe neighbouring Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus, and Russia. Latvia is a member of the European Union (since 1 May 2004), United Nations (since 17 September 1991), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (since 10 September 1991), Council of Europe (since 10 February 1995), World Trade Organisation (since 10 February 1999), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (since 29 March 2004).  

 

Historically, Latvian territory has been ruled by different foreign powers, including German, Swedish, Danish, Polish, and Russian.  The independent Republic of Latvia was founded on 18 November 1918 when Latvia declared its sovereignty and started to develop its legal order, belonging to the continental (Romano-Germanic) law system. Development of Latvian law was significantly influenced by German (and subsequently, Roman) law, especially in areas of civil and constitutional law. The Constitution (“Satversme”) was drafted using the Weimar Constitution, constitutions of German states, and the Constitution of France as primary models. The Constitution was adopted in 1922, thus making it the oldest Constitution among the three Baltic countries.

 

After the World War II and the subsequent occupation by the Soviet Union, Latvia fell under the Soviet law system for the next decades. On 4 May 1990, Latvia re-established the name of the Republic of Latvia, thus beginning the restoration of full sovereignty and return to the continental law system. During the transition period, Latvia re-established the Constitution of 1922 and the Civil Law of 1938, gradually replaced the Soviet laws with new legal acts, and reformed the state administration. Shortly after regaining independence, Latvia set an objective to join the European Union. In order to meet the accession criteria, starting from 1996 Latvia harmonized its legal acts with acquis communautaire and promoted democracy and rule of law. This process successfully concluded with Latvia’s accession to the EU in 2004.

 

1.2. Sources of law

Latvian legal theory distinguishes two kinds of legal sources: primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources (legal acts, legal principles, customary law) contain binding legal norms, whereas secondary sources (case law, legal science) do not contain legal norms and are used for interpretation and argumentation.

 

In practice, the most important source of law in Latvia is legal acts, which can be divided into two categories: external and internal. External legal acts are universally binding; the main types of external legal acts are laws (s. likums, pl. likumi), regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers (Ministru Kabineta noteikumi), and binding regulations of local authorities (pasvaldibu saistosie noteikumi).  Internal legal acts, on the contrary, bind only the issuing state institution. Examples of internal legal acts are statutes, instructions, and recommendations.

 

The publishing and enactment of legal acts is regulated by the Law on Publications and Legal Information (“Oficiālo publikāciju un tiesiskās informācijas likums”, adopted on 31 May 2012). The law states that legal acts and official announcements are published electronically on www.vestnesis.lv .

 

1.3 Hierarchy of legal acts

The hierarchical system of legal acts in Latvia is the following:

1)      the Constitution;

2)      laws;

3)      regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers ;

4)      binding regulations of local authorities.

This hierarchy is defined in the Law on Publications and Legal Information (“Oficiālo publikāciju un tiesiskās informācijas likums”), but two other laws describe the hierarchical order as well: the Constitutional Court Law (“Satversmes tiesas likums”) and the Administrative Procedure Law (“Administratīvā procesa likums”).

International and EU law norms are applied in accordance with their ranking in the hierarchy of external regulatory enactments.  In case of conflict between a Latvian and international/EU law norm of the same legal force, the international/EU law norm must be applied. 

2.      State order and division of power

 

2.1. The legislative power

The basic legal document that sets the state order in Latvia is the Constitution ("Satversme”).

According to the Latvian Constitution, Latvia is a parliamentary democracy where the highest legislative power belongs to the Latvian nation (full-fledged citizens of both sexes of at least 18 years of age). The nation, by voting, has the highest legislature powers over some of the issues set by the Constitution (e.g., release of the Parliament proposed by the State president). Only the nation has a right to decide on state independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and democratic state order.

By general, equal, direct, secret, proportional voting, the citizens of Latvia elect the Parliament (“Saeima”). The parliament of Latvia consists of 100 MPs. Parliament is elected for four years and any citizen starting from age of 21 can be elected. The Parliament is the highest legislator and it adopts state budget. The legislative power is also balanced with the judicial power since the Parliament approves all judges of Latvia.

The Parliament of Latvia elects a President . The president is elected for four years and any citizen of Latvia at least 40 years old can be elected to the post. The functions of the Latvian president if compared to other states are quite limited. The president is more like a representative person than a decision maker. Nevertheless, the state president has rights to initiate a law and to grant a pardon. The president appoints diplomatic representatives of Latvia. He/she is the commander-in-chief of the Latvian army in peacetime. The President proclaims laws passed by the Saeima and may require the parliament to reconsider a law. Laws come into force fourteen days after their proclamation unless a different term has been specified in the particular law.

2.2. The executive power

The highest executive power of Latvia lies with the Cabinet of Ministers , which is formed by a person entrusted by the President. The Prime minister candidate forms the rest of the Cabinet. When the Cabinet of Ministers has been formed, the Parliament has a vote of confidence. If the voting is positive, the person who has been entrusted to form the Cabinet becomes the Prime Minister.

 

State institutions are subject to the authority of the Cabinet of Ministers, and the Cabinet and individual ministers may issue instructions binding to the subordinate institutions. The Cabinet of Ministers has the rights of legislative initiative and may submit draft laws to the Saeima. The Cabinet may also issue regulations when such a right is stipulated in a particular law of if the particular matter has not been regulated by law. 

 

2.3. The judicial power

The Latvian court system consists of:

1.       Supreme Court;

2.      6 regional courts;

3.      35 district and city courts

The Supreme Court  consists of the Senate and two court chambers – the Chamber of Civil Cases and the Chamber of Criminal Cases.  The chambers are appeal bodies for cases that have been decided by the regional courts as the court of first instance.

The Senate is comprised of 3 departments: the Department of Civil Cases, the Department of Criminal Cases and the Department of Administrative Cases.  The Senate is the highest court instance in Latvia and its judgments cannot be appealed. The Senate reviews cassation complaints and cassation protests on rulings of regional courts in cases reviewed under the procedure of appeal as well as on rulings of the court chambers of the Supreme Court. The Senate is also the first instance in cases on decisions of the Central Elections Commission and decisions of the Minister of Interior Affairs regarding persons included in the country’s blacklist. At the Senate and the Chambers three judges, try the cases.

There are six regional courts in Latvia. The regional court is a court of first instance for civil and criminal cases that according to the law are within its competence. The regional court is instance of appeal when administrative, criminal and civil cases have been tried in the district (city) courts. In the appeal, three judges try the case.  Alongside regional courts, land registers exist, having a status of a court institution. Land Registers contain inscriptions on immovable property and rights relevant to immovable property.

There are 35 district (city) courts in Latvia. District courts are the first instance for civil, criminal and administrative cases as set by the law. Civil, criminal and administrative cases with a few exceptions are tried by one judge. Particularly complicated criminal and administrative cases can be tried by three judges.

Until 2004, administrative cases were tried along with civil cases, but on 1 February 2004, administrative courts were added to the Latvian court system. Administrative court system consists of three levels: the Administrative District court, the Administrative Regional court, and the Administrative law department within the Senate of the Latvian Supreme Court.

Besides the courts mentioned, there is the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia.  The Constitutional Court was established in 1996 by adopting the Constitutional Court Law   (adopted on 5 June 1996). The judges of the Constitutional Court are approved by the parliament.  The candidacies of three judges are suggested by at least 10 MPs, two others - by the suggestion of the Cabinet of Ministers, and the remaining two - by the Supreme Court of Latvia. The Constitutional Court of Latvia consists of seven judges and they are appointed for 10 years.

3. Legal education and legal professions

 

3.1. Legal education in Latvia

As a member of the Bologna process, Latvia has reformed its education system to meet the objectives of the Bologna Declaration and make the higher education comparable and compatible with education systems in other European countries.

 

Legal education in Latvia consists of three cycles: bachelor, master, and doctor.  Bachelor studies last 3 or 4 years depending on the programme (academic or professional), followed by two-year master’s studies. Lawyer’s qualification is awarded only upon successful completion of a professional master’s programme in law; a prerequisite for undertaking master’s studies is a previous bachelor degree in law.  Only Latvian citizens with a lawyer’s qualification can become advocates, notaries, bailiffs, prosecutors, and judges.

 

3.2. Legal professions in Latvia

 

3.2.1. Regulated legal professions and recognition of professional qualification

The ‘regulated professions’ and requirements for recognition of foreign qualifications are stipulated in the Law on Regulated Professions and Recognition of Professional Qualification (“Par reglamentētajām profesijām un profesionālās kvalifikācijas atzīšanu”, adopted on 20 June 2001). Recognition of foreign diplomas is carried out by the Academic Information Centre.       

According to the Law, only two legal professions in Latvia are considered ‘regulated professions’: sworn advocate and sworn advocate’s assistant.

 

3.2.2. Advocates

The Bar in Latvia consists of sworn advocates. Any sworn advocate can be a representative in any court instance and pre-trial investigation. Administrative and control function within the Bar is carried out by the Latvian Council of Sworn Advocates. The Council organizes admission of new Bar members, controls the work of sworn advocates and their assistants, i.e., reviews complaints and reports and imposes disciplinary measures. The professional activities of sworn advocates are regulated by the Advocacy Law of the Republic of Latvia (“Latvijas Republikas Advokatūras likums”, adopted on 27 April 1993).

Advocates from non-EU states may practice in Latvia in accordance with the international agreements on legal assistance binding to the Republic of Latvia.

Advocates from European Union Member States may practice law in Latvia if they submit their registration certificate with the competent authority of their home Member State to the Latvian Council of Sworn Advocates.  Detailed regulation of foreign advocates’ rights to practice in Latvia can be found in the Advocacy Law.

3.2.3. Notaries

In Latvia, notaries are authorized to certify authenticity of documents and transactions, administer inheritance cases, conduct divorce matters, and accept money, securities and documents for storage. The professional activities of notaries are regulated by the Notariate law (“Notariāta likums”, adopted on 1 June 1993).

Notaries are appointed by the Minister of Justice and may hold the office until seventy years of age. Notaries act within the regional courts and are considered state officials. Administrative and control functions are carried out by the Council of Sworn Notaries .

3.2.4. Judges

The professional activities of judges are regulated by the Law on Judicial Power (“Par tiesu varu”, adopted on 15 December 1992).

All judges in Latvia are appointed by the Saeima.  Only citizens of Latvia with flawless reputation can be appointed as judges, but the specific criteria for becoming a judge differ for each court instance.  Judges of the district/city courts are initially appointed for a term of 3 years.  After this period of time, the Saeima either confirms him/her in the office for an unlimited term of re-appoints the judge for a period of two years.  The judges of the regional courts and the Supreme Court are appointed for an unlimited period of time.  The judges of the district/city courts and regional courts may hold their office till 65 years of age, whereas the maximum age for holding office as a judge of the Supreme Court is 70 years.

 

3.2.5. Bailiffs

The activity of bailiffs in Latvia is regulated by the Law on Bailiffs   (adopted on 24 October 2002). Bailiffs belong to the court system; they are registered with a particular regional court of Latvia and are considered state officials. Bailiffs are appointed for life and may remain in office till the age of 65, with certain options of the office term being prolonged till the age of 70. The number, regions and districts of activity are established by the Minister of Justice. The bailiffs are also appointed by the Minister of Justice.  Administrative and control function is carried out by the Council of Sworn Bailiffs.

3.2.6. Prosecutors

The professional activities of prosecutors are regulated by the Office of the Prosecutor Law (“Prokuratūras likums”, adopted on 2 June 1994). Prosecutors participate in all stages of criminal investigation. The Prosecutor’s Office conducts pre-trial investigations as well as supervises investigatory operations of other institutions, initiates and conducts criminal prosecution, and supervises enforcement of judgments. The Prosecutor’s Office is a unified, centralised three-level institutional system managed by the Prosecutor General.

 

4. Legal resources

 

4.1. Legislation

 

4.1.1. Printed sources

Official state information and legal acts are published in the official gazette “Latvijas Vēstnesis” (‘’The Herald of Latvia’, 1993-, published at least four times per week). Starting from 1 January 2013, publishing of the printed gazette will be discontinued, and legislation will be published only electronically.

 

Legal acts up to year 2010 were published also in “Latvijas Republikas Saeimas un Ministru Kabineta Ziņotājs (‘’The Bulletin of the Saeima and the Cabinet of Ministers’’). The bulletin contained all laws, regulations, decisions, official announcements, and information about state accession to international agreements and conventions.  Since 2012 the bulletin has been renamed “Latvijas Republikas Saeimas Ziņotājs” (‘The Bulletin of the Saeima’) and is published bi-monthly in electronic format only.

 

4.1.2. Electronic sources

 

  • www.vestnesis.lv – homepage of the official gazette “Latvijas Vestnesis”, publishes legal acts and official information. Previously documents that were published electronically had only informative value, but starting from 1 July 2012 , the electronic publication on www.vestnesis.lv  is considered official. Access to documents is free of charge; information is published only in Latvian.
  • Likumi.lv  – free of charge legislation vortal maintained by the “Latvijas Vēstnesis”. Provides access to legal acts and the Constitutional Court decisions. Access to documents is free of charge; information is published only in Latvian.
  • “Latvijas Republikas Saeimas Ziņotājs”   (‘The Bulletin of Saeima’, published bi-monthly) – legal acts adopted by the Latvian parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers (free of charge, in Latvian).
  • NAIS – commercial, fee-based based legislation information system.  A considerable part of the provided legal acts is available also in English.
  • Akti NAIS  - consolidated versions of legal acts in force, the Constitutional Court decisions (free of charge, in Latvian).
  • Parliament’s draft laws database  - texts of draft laws (http:\www.saeima.lv\Likumdosana\likumdosana_likumprojekti.html) considered by the Saeima (in Latvian), information on progress of each draft law.
  • Databases maintained by the Cabinet of Ministers: draft legal acts  and approved conceptions, programmes and strategy documents  (in Latvian).
  • News agency LETA  provides a database of “Latvijas Vēstnesis” publications since 2000, court proceedings, and legal acts (searchable, in Latvian, requires subscription).
  • Latlex  – fee-based legal information system but access to consolidated Latvian and international legal acts is free of charge. 

 

4.1.3. Translations of legal acts into English

The State Language Centre  ensures the translation of Latvian legal acts into English and other EU languages. Translations of legal acts can be found using the search screenon the Centre’s homepage. Alternatively, most of the legal acts published on www.likumi.lv  provide a link to the State Language Centre’s translation. 

 

Ministries’ homepages usually provide translations of the most important legal acts in each sector.

Translated Latvian legal acts are also available on NAIS , a fee-based commercial database.

 

4.2. Courts and case law

 

4.2.1. Printed sources

Judgments of the Constitutional Court are published annually by “Tiesu namu aģentūra” (‘The Courthouse Agency’) and cover court cases from 1997.  From 1997 to 2004, the judgments were published parallel in Latvian, Russian, and English, but subsequent editions have been published only in Latvian.

 

  • Judgments of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia, 1997- . Riga: Tiesu namu agentura, 2001- . 

 

Decisions of the Senate of the Supreme Court of Latvia (“Latvijas Senāta spriedumi”) for 1918-1940 were published in 16 volumes during the pre-war period, 1919-1941. This publication has a facsimile edition, 1997-1998, published by the Supreme Court with the support of the August Loeber Foundation (ISBN 9984-616-00-2).

 

Current decisions of the Supreme Court of Latvia starting with 1996 are published annually by the Latvian Judicial Training Center and from 2005 by the Courthouse Agency:

  • Latvijas Republikas Augstākās Tiesas Senāta spriedumi un lēmumi, 1996. - Riga : Latvijas Tiesnešu mācību centrs, 1997.  
  • Latvijas Republikas Augstākās Tiesas Senāta Krimināllietu departamenta lēmumi, 1997- . - Riga : Latvijas Tiesnešu mācību centrs, 1998-2005; Riga : Tiesu namu aģentūra, 2006- .
  • Latvijas Republikas Augstākās Tiesas Senāta Civillietu departamenta spriedumi un lēmumi, 1997- . - Riga : Latvijas Tiesnešu mācību centrs, 1998-2005; Riga : Tiesu namu aģentūra, 2006- .
  • Latvijas Republikas Augstākās Tiesas Senāta Administratīvo lietu departamenta spriedumi un lēmumi, 2004- . - Riga : Tiesu namu aģentūra, 2005- .

 

4.2.2. Electronic sources

  • Latvian Court Portal - information on Latvian court system and judicial process, judgments of administrative courts (since 2007), summaries of the Supreme Court judgments. All decisions are available only in Latvian.
  • Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia   – the majority of judgments are available also in English.
  • Supreme Court of the Republic of Latvia – court decisions in Latvian, summaries of case law in Latvian (2002-2012) and English (2002-2008).
  • LATLEX – a fee-based database that contains full-text judgments of Latvian courts (in Latvian) as well as analytically processed judgments. 

 

4.3. State institutions

 

Ministries:

 

Procurement Monitoring Bureau  (in Latvian only) - legal acts in the field of public procurement. Explanatory aid on procurement procedure as well as samples of documents. Published announcements on procurements and statistics.

 

The Treasury of the Republic of Latvia  - state budget fulfilment reviews, central and local government reports, government securities, regulations on securities.

 

The Register of Enterprises of the Republic of Latvia  – basic information on establishing and registering enterprises, legal acts regulating enterprises.

 

State Revenue Service – information on taxes and customs in Latvia, legal acts in the area of taxes and duties.

 

Investment and Development Agency of Latvia - information on Latvia’s legal and business environment for foreign investors and trade partners.

 

Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs  - comprehensive information on visas, residence permits, passports, and other matters related to residing in Latvia and obtaining Latvian citizenship.

 

State Language Centre  (in Latvian only) - monitors implementation of legal acts concerning the usage of state language; provides translations of Latvian legislation into English as well as translations of EU law and international agreements into Latvian.  Translations of Latvian legal acts can be found using the search screen on the Centre’s homepage ; the Centre also maintains a searchable terminology database.

 

4.4. Legal research and legal updates

Juridica  is the main source for legal research on the internet related to Latvian legal resources. Juridica is a legal information internet catalogue in Latvian and English languages maintained by the Riga Graduate School of Law, which offers annotated information on good quality Latvian, and world legal websites. The catalogue is browsable or searchable by resource type, subjects, language, and regions.

 

Sorainen , one of the leading business law firms in the Baltic region, regularly publishes legal news, articles, and briefings on Latvian legal environment in English. All publication can be found on Sorainen’s web site under Publications.

 

Raidla Lejins & Norcous, one of the largest pan-Baltic providers of legal services, publishes legal newsletters and guides in English.

4.5. Law libraries

4.6. Legal profession

 

4.7. Legal education

·         Riga Graduate School of Law LL.M in International and European Law, Public International Law, Transborder Commercial Law, European Union Law and Policy, Law and Finance; MA in Legal Linguistics;   LL.B in Law and Business; BA in Law and Diplomacy. Tuition exclusively in English.  

4.8. Business sources

  • LURSOFT  - Latvian IT company that provides integrated access to official databases and business information. Offers fee-based subscription to databases of enterprises registered in Latvia, persons’ databases, credit reports, commercial statistics, newspaper library.  
  • LETA  – news agency that provides a variety of news and business information solutions.