Taking counsel - Overreaction and under-regulation in public procurement policy

  • 2008-01-09
  • By Egle Meigyte [Jurevicius, Balciunas & Bartkus]
After recent amendments to Lithuania's judiciary law, two public representatives who never exercised magisterial functions before have received tenure as members of the Committee on Judicial Selection. This will be the first time ever that individuals without legal education will be tasked with appointing judges by giving recommendations to the president for the appointment, promotion or removal of judges. The amendments were introduced to restore public confidence in the legal system and to ensure the efficiency of court proceedings due to widespread popular discontent with Lithuania's judiciary.
Current research shows that just less than one-third of Lithuanian society trusts the judiciary. Citizens continually complain about the subjectivity of judges, drawn-out court proceedings and corruption. Moreover, there is a lingering distrust of judicial independence, which is widely considered to be unrestricted privilege more than assurance of efficient legal work.

For the sake of change, representatives of the public may also start participating in judicial practice by becoming lay judges in courts. It is believed that this progressive change would be the best solution to reconcile public opinion and court decisions in accordance with the law.
To be sure, current constitutional law in Lithuania does not provide for non-professionals solving legal disputes in the courts. For this reason a group of members of Parliament initiated the amendment to the Constitution, and the Cabinet of Ministers has approved it. Thus it would appear likely that the constitutional provision declaring that justice shall be administered only by the judges may be expanded by giving the same legal power to the public representatives 's i.e., lay judges.

The institution of lay judges was eliminated from the legal system in 1995, and its potential restoration now is the subject of serious discussions among lawyers and politicians. Supporters of the initiative claim the new regulation would facilitate more clarity, fairness and impartiality to the legal proceedings if ordinary people had a direct approach to the administration of justice. It is argued that by integrating public opinion to the justice system court decisions will become more understandable to the community and that the basic aim of judiciary law 's to serve for the society 's will be ensured.

On the other hand, critics of this amendment consider the establishment of this new institution of lay judges will prolong legal proceedings, increase taxes, and fail to facilitate the goal of boosting judicial impartiality, particularly in a small country such as Lithuania where everyone seems to know one another, making the possibility of bribery all too real.
However, the final decision on amending the Constitution and establishing the right for public representatives to participate in the judicial system alongside the judges lies with Parliament.
If lawmakers approve the measure, the extent of applying this practice and the requirements applicable for the persons administrating justice will also be elaborated by the legislative branch, according to demands and possibilities.

Egle Meigyte is a lawyer at Jurevicius, Balciunas & Bartkus, a member of Baltic Legal Solutions, a pan-Baltic integrated legal network of law firms including Teder Glikman & Partnerid in Estonia and Kronbergs & Cukste in Latvia, dedicated to providing a quality "one-stop shop" approach to clients' needs in the Baltics.