Democracy threatened by high court appointment

  • 2010-05-26
  • From wire reports

RIGA - The appointment of Vineta Muizniece, chairwoman of the People’s Party Saeima faction, to the prestigious job of a Constitutional Court justice, demonstrates once again that academic degrees and knowledge are not the most important criteria for ascendancy to Latvia’s judiciary, reports news agency LETA. Lolita Cigane, member of the board at the NGO Meierovics Society, said that long-time Constitutional rights experts, who have defended dissertations and have been constantly expanding their knowledge, should be the ones appointed as Constitutional Court justices.

“Unlike the other candidate for the high post, Silvija Meiere, Muizniece does not have a Master’s degree or a Doctorate in law; she has not practiced or studied Constitutional rights. Furthermore, as the head of Saeima Legal Affairs Committee, Muizniece delayed amendments to the law that would introduce an open ballot system for the election of the prosecutor general. Once again, Saeima has striven not for professionalism and excellence, but for the election of political minions in the interest of narrow circles,” said Cigane.

This strongly suggests that the vacancies of top judges are reserved for officials from certain political parties and approved by these parties’ owners.
The People’s Party is to blame for such politicization and demoralization of the rule of law in Latvia. The Meierovics Society urges Latvia’s citizens to be aware of this threat, and not to forget about it when the Saeima election campaign begins.

Saeima on May 20 elected Muizniece as a justice of the Constitutional Court in a closed ballot. There were 52 votes in favor of Muizniece’s election. A second candidate for the post, Unity candidate and Constitutional Court advisor Silvija Meijere, was supported by 28 deputies. Forty one Saeima members voted against Muizniece, while 65 voted against Meijere.

The law states that a minimum of 51 votes are required for election to this office.
Muizniece received the support of a Saeima majority despite concern that she is too closely linked with the People’s Party to be able to act objectively. However, Muizniece has already stepped down from her role as the party’s Saeima faction leader. She will also resign as chairwoman of the Saeima’s Legal Affairs Committee.
Muizniece will assume the role being vacated by Justice of the Supreme Court Juris Jelagins, whose mandate ends on June 8.

Inese Voika, the chairwoman of Transparency International Latvia-Delna, expressed concern that Muizniece’s election to the Constitutional Court threatened to undermine this institution, as there was now a risk that politics could influence the court’s decisions. “The political parties who were ready to vote in support of Muizniece’s election to this office have clearly shown their wish to weaken one of the democratic foundations of Latvia,” said Voika.

Delna points out that in her role as chairwoman of the Saeima’s Legal Affairs Committee, the politician has made decisions which the Constitutional Court later rejected as being in conflict with the Constitution. The organization also drew attention to the fact that in the same role, Muizniece had rejected a bill to make a Master’s degree in law a mandatory requirement for new Constitutional Court justices, in effect protecting her own chances.

Muizniece’s position as deputy of the Saeima was taken by Valdis Gilis, who has previously been a member several times.