RIGA - The European Commission in its report on the rule of law situation in Latvia appreciates the country's progress but recommends reducing political influence in the selection of Supreme Court judges, stepping up corruption prevention, providing a regulation for lobbying and increasing public involvement.
The overall effectiveness of the Latvian judicial system is high and initiatives have been proposed to improve it further, the European Commission notes.
A number of reforms to improve the functioning of the Latvian justice system have entered
into force, the Commission says in the report. The Judicial Council further improved the procedure for selecting candidate judges and started implementing its strategy, with a focus on taking over the administrative tasks relating to courts from the executive branch. However, the appointment process for the Supreme Court was marked by controversies regarding possible undue political influence.
The Commission also welcomes the digitalization of of justice and the plan to establish a new centralized training center, as well as the first year of operations of the recently established Economic Court.
The performance of the Corruption Prevention Bureau (KNAB) has also received a positive assessment. Overall, KNAB deals with corruption cases efficiently and progress has been acknowledged by the OECD regarding detection and prioritization of cases of foreign bribery.
The implementation of the two-year Action Plan addressing the State Audit Office's recommendations on improving the quality of investigation and prosecution of economic and financial crimes is expected to be completed within the deadline set for June 2023.
In the second half of this year Latvia plans to adopt legislation on lobbying along with a creation of a special lobby register. New legislation on whistleblowing was adopted on 20 January 2022, the Commission notes in the report.
The report also mentions special anti-corruption measures taken by Latvia to prevent fraud in the area of issuance of COVID-19 vaccination, convalescence or testing certificates.
The legal framework for media pluralism and media freedom in Latvia safeguards the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information. Media authorities continue to function in an independent manner. The independence of the Latvian public service media is
ensured by legal and structural safeguards. However, concerns remain on the high level of media concentration. Journalists in Latvia continue to work in a safe environment, although online threats remain an issue, according to the Commission's report.
Upon analyzing the rule of law situation in Latvia, the European Commission has provided four recommendations that should be implemented along with the national l Recovery and Resilience Plan: Initiate a process in view of ensuring adequate safeguards against undue political influence in the appointment of Supreme Court judges, taking into account European standards on judicial appointments: Continue efforts towards the swift adoption and effective implementation of the Action Plan 2021-2024 to prevent corruption: Continue efforts towards adopting the draft legislation on lobbying, and following that, ensure the setting-up of a special lobby register; Take measures to increase the participation of civil society in decision-making at local level.