UPDATE: Guide to Latvian Legal System and Legal Research

 

By Baiba Bebre and Ligita Gjortlere

 

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

 

Published April 2016

(Previously updated in Nov./Dec. 2012)

See the Archive Version!

 

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 various 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 consequently, 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 legislative 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 legislative 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 (legislative 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 sources of law in Latvia are legislative acts, which can be divided into two categories: external and internal. External legislative acts are universally binding; the main types of external legislative acts are laws (s. likums, pl. likumi), regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers (Ministru Kabineta noteikumi), and binding regulations of local authorities (pašvaldību saistošie noteikumi).  Internal legislative acts, on the contrary, bind only the issuing state institution. Examples of internal legislative acts are statutes, instructions, and recommendations.

 

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

 

1.3. Hierarchy of Legislative Acts

The hierarchical system of legislative 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 legislative acts.  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 Parliament 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 Parliament. 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 three-tier court system consists of:

 

1.     Supreme Court;

2.     6 regional courts;

3.     35 district and city courts

 

The Supreme Court is comprised of 3 departments: the Department of Civil Cases, the Department of Criminal Cases and the Department of Administrative Cases.  The Supreme Court is the highest court instance in Latvia and its judgments cannot be appealed. The Supreme Court is cassation instance in all cases, unless the law states otherwise. Prior to 2015, the Supreme Court also comprised two court chambers - the Chamber of Civil Cases and the Chamber of Criminal Cases, which were appellate bodies for cases which had been adjudicated by regional courts as the first instance courts.  On 13 June 2013, the law “On Judicial Power” (“Par tiesu varu”, adopted on 15 December 1992) was amended to introduce step-by-step transition to clear three-level court system. The Chamber of Criminal Cases remained operational until 31 December 2014, whereas the Chamber of Civil Cases will function till 31 December 2016.

 

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, which implements constitutional review by hearing cases on the compliance of laws and other legislative acts with the Constitution (“Satversme”).  The Constitutional Court was established in 1996 by adopting the Constitutional Court Law (“Satversmes tiesas likums”, 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 Professions in Latvia

 

3.1. 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. Advocates

The Bar in Latvia consists of sworn advocates. Any sworn advocate can be a representative in any court instance and pre-trial investigation. All sworn advocates practising in Latvia are united in the Latvian Collegium of Sworn Advocates. Administrative and control function within the Bar is carried out by the Latvian Council of Sworn Advocates, which is the administrative, supervisory and executive institution of the Latvian Collegium 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.

 

3.3. 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.

 

3.4. Judges

The professional activities of judges are regulated by the Law on Judicial Power (“Par tiesu varu”, adopted on Dec. 15, 1992). All judges in Latvia are appointed by the Parliament. 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 Parliament 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.  In all court instances, the maximum age for holding office as a judge is 70 years.

 

3.5. Bailiffs

The activity of bailiffs in Latvia is regulated by the Law on Bailiffs (“Tiesu izpildītāju likums”, 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.  

 

3.6. 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. Official Printed Publications

Until 2013, official state information and legislative acts were published in the official gazette “Latvijas Vēstnesis” (‘’The Herald of Latvia’, 1993-2012). Starting from 1 January 2013, publishing of the printed gazette was discontinued, and legislation now is published only electronically at www.vestnesis.lv.

 

Legislative acts up to year 2010 were published also in “Latvijas Republikas Saeimas un Ministru Kabineta Ziņotājs (‘’The Bulletin of the Parliament 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 Parliament) and is published bi-monthly in electronic format only.

 

4.1.2. Overview of Fundamental Legislative Acts and Major Printed Commentaries

 

Constitutional Law (“Satversme”)

 

·       Latvijas Republikas Satversme = Latvejis Republikys Satversme = Leţmō Republik Pūojpandõks = Constitution de la République de Lettonie = The Constitution of the Republic of Latvia = Verfassung der Republik Lettland = Läti Vabariigi põhiseadus = Latvijos Respublikos Konstitucija = Конституция Латвийской Республики. - Rīga: Latvijas Vēstnesis, 2012.

·       Latvijas Republikas Satversmes komentāri: ievads ; I nodaļa : vispārējie noteikumi / aut.kol., zin.red. R.Balodis. - Rīga: Latvijas Vēstnesis, 2014.

·       Latvijas Republikas Satversmes komentāri: VI nodaļa. Tiesa; VII nodaļa. Valsts kontrole / aut.kol., zin.red. R.Balodis. - Rīga: Latvijas Vēstnesis, 2013.

·       Latvijas Republikas Satversmes komentāri: VIII nodaļa : cilvēka pamattiesības / aut.kol., zin.red. R.Balodis. - Rīga: Latvijas Vēstnesis, 2011.

 

Administrative law and administrative procedure are governed by the Administrative Procedure Law (“Administratīvā procesa likums, adopted on 25 October 2001) and the Latvian Administrative Violations Code (“Latvijas Administratīvo pārkāpumu likums, adopted on 7 December 1984). The Administrative Procedure Law governs administrative procedure in public institutions and administrative courts. It sets forth principles of the administrative procedure and governs adoption and judicial review of administrative acts.

 

The Latvian Administrative Violations Code stipulates, which actions and inactions constitute administrative violations, sets forth administrative penalties and the institutions competent to inflict administrative penalties.

 

·       Administratīvā procesa likuma komentāri: A un B daļa / aut.kol. J. Briedes zin.red. - Rīga: Tiesu namu aģentūra, 2013.

 

Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure. The two basic acts regulating this area of law are the Criminal Law (“Krimināllikums”, adopted on 17 June 1998), and the Criminal Procedure Law (“Kriminālprocesa likums”, adopted on 21 April 2004). The Criminal Law governs criminal offences and respective punishments, while the Criminal Procedure Law regulates the various stages of the criminal procedure, terms, evidence, investigative actions, rights and obligations of persons involved in criminal proceedings.

 

 

Civil Law. The umbrella law in private law sphere is the Civil Law of Latvia (“Civillikums), which was adopted in 1938 and was reinforced step by step as of 1992.

 

 

The Civil Law of Latvia (2001) consists of four parts and governs the main areas of private law:

 

  1. Family Law (Ģimenes tiesības)

 

·       Latvijas Republikas Civillikuma komentāri: Ģimenes tiesības (26-51, 114-125, 140-176 p.) / Janis Vēbers. – Rīga: Mans īpašums, 2000. 

 

  1. Inheritance Law (Mantojuma tiesības)

 

·       Gencs, Zigmants, Civillikuma komentāri: otrā daļa. Mantojuma tiesības (655.-840. pants) / Zigmants Gencs. Rīga: Tiesu namu aģentūra, 2012

 

  1. Property Law (Lietu tiesības)

 

·       Latvijas Republikas Civillikuma komentāri: Lietas. Valdījums. Tiesības uz svešu lietu (841.-926., 1130.-1400.p.) / G. Višņakova, K. Balodis. - Rīga: Mans īpašums, 1998.

·       Grūtups Andris. Civillikuma komentāri: 3. dala. Lietu tiesības. īpašums / Andris Grūtups, Erlens Kalniņš. - Rīga: Tiesu namu aģentūra, 2002.

 

  1. Law on Obligations (Saistību tiesības)

 

·       Latvijas Republikas Civillikuma komentāri: Saistību tiesības (1401.-2400.p.) / aut.kol.; K.Torgāna visp.zin.red. - Rīga: Mans īpašums, [2000].

 

Civil procedure is governed by the Civil Procedure Law (“Civilprocesa likums, adopted on 14 October 1998), which sets forth principles and provisions for adjudication of civil legal disputes in regular courts and arbitration courts. Latvia Civil Procedures Law is also available on WIPO.

 

 

Commercial activities are principally governed by the Commercial Law (“Komerclikums, adopted on 13 April 2000), although the Civil law is applicable as well.

 

 

Employment relationships are regulated by the Labour Law (“Darba likums, adopted on 20 June 2001).

 

Latvian Legal System

 

 

4.1.3. Electronic Sources

 

 

4.1.4. Translations of Legislative Acts into English

The State Language Centre  ensures the translation of Latvian legislative acts into English and other EU languages. Translations of legislative acts can be found using the search screen on the Centre’s homepage. Alternatively, most of the legislative acts published on www.likumi.lv provide a link to the State Language Centre’s translation (see section ‘Tulkojums’ on the right side banner of the legislative act). 

 

Ministries’ homepages usually provide translations of the most important legislative acts in each sector. Translated Latvian legislative 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.

 

 

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:

 

 

4.2.2. Electronic Sources

 

 

4.3. State Institutions

 

 

Ministries:

 

 

Procurement Monitoring Bureau (in Latvian only) – legislative 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 is responsible for 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, legislative acts regulating enterprises.

 

State Revenue Service offers information on taxes and customs in Latvia, legislative 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 legislative 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 legislative 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.

 

Cobalt, 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; LL.B in Law and Business; BA in Law and Diplomacy; doctoral programme in cooperation with the University of Copenhagen. Tuition exclusively in English.  

 

4.8. Business Sources