History of the Association


15 Years of the Estonian Association of Judges (1991 – 2006)


The Estonian Association of Judges (unofficial abbreviation EKoÜ) is a voluntary union of judges of the Republic of Estonia, a non-profit association, a legal person in private law. Estonian judges may be active members of the Association. Honourable members are elected by the general meeting by proposal of the management board. As of 1 August 2006 the Association has 168 active members and two honourable members: President of the Vienna Criminal Court Günther Woratsch (1999), and former judge, founder member of the EKoÜ and current Chancellor of the Estonian Bar Association, Attorney-at-Law Rein Kiviloo (1995).

The general meeting of the members is the highest body of the Association. The management board directs the activities of the Association between the general meetings. An internal audit committee has been set up. The Association has its own seal, emblem (designed by founder member Rein Pärtel) and banner.

The Association's foundation was triggered by the socio-political situation in the country and it happened quite quickly after the Republic of Estonia regained its independence on 20 August 1991. The statutes were drafted by Donald Kiidjärv (judge of Tartu County Court at that time) and Peeter Jerofejev (judge of Tartu City Court at the time). The foundation issues were discussed beforehand with other judges in the Paide and Viljandi Courthouses. The foundation meeting was held on 18 December 1991 in the Engineers' House in Tartu and the founder members were 33 judges. According to the minutes of the foundation meeting, the objectives were to better protect the social rights of judges and to be a channel for stating the judges' views and opinions. "At first it resembled a trade union. Later came the understanding of the necessity of international cooperation," recollects present Justice of the Supreme Court and first Chairman of the Association Peeter Jerofejev.

Over the following years, the Association was chaired by Maie Kram (Judge of the Lääne County Court, December 1993 – December 1995), Allar Jõks, (Judge of the Tallinn Circuit Court, December 1995 – March 2001, left the chairman's position after he was elected the Chancellor of Justice of the Republic of Estonia), Hurma Kiviloo (Judge of the Tallinn Administrative Court, March 2001 – November 2005). Judge of the Harju County Court Meelis Eerik has been the Chairman of the Association since November 2005.

Judge of the Tallinn Circuit Court Jüri Paap was the secretary and cashier in the early years of the Association. Mai Grauberg (now Judge of the Harju County Court, then Consultant of the Tallinn Circuit Court) came to assist the Association as a clerk in 1996. Toomas Riismaa (then Administrative Director, now Head of Administration of the Tallinn Circuit Court) has been the clerk of the Association with a short break since November 1997.

The EKoÜ has been a member of the IAJ (International Association of Judges) since 1995. The Association's representatives have participated in the IAJ annual meetings since 1993. The EKoÜ owes its admission to the IAJ, and its ensuing international contacts with its counterparts in other countries, due to the services of honourable member G. Woratsch.

The Association has the following statutory objectives: to associate judges within a professional organisation, to protect the independence of courts and judges, to protect the individual, work-related and socio-economic rights and legal interests of judges, to shape and maintain the high level of professional ethics of judges, and to study the history of the courts which have functioned on Estonian territory. The Association has followed these objectives during its years of operation. While in its early years the Association's priority was indeed to stand for the social guarantees of judges, then already since the mid-1990s the discussions began within the Association on whether it should be more of a trade union or professional association. Considering that it is the only association of judges in our country, it has inevitably had to take on both these functions.

The Association has consistently stood for judges to receive a worthy reward for their work. This role of the Association was especially apparent in 1998 and 2002. In connection with the executive power's attempt to change the judges' salaries without informing the judges and their Association of the matter, the EKoÜ addressed the President of the European Association of Judges for support in the autumn of 1998 and support was indeed extended. In 2002 the Chairman of the Association, H. Kiviloo, participated in the hearing of the draft Courts Act in the Parliament. The draft Courts Act was more widely discussed on the EKoÜ's initiative with representatives of the legislative and executive powers. The EKoÜ's pursuits were finally fruitful as important guarantees, for the judges' independence, were secured by the legislation.

The management board of the Association has also participated in the distribution of official apartments to judges and in later negotiations with the Ministry of Justice to discuss the ways how judges could become the owners of their homes.

As statehood developed and in parallel with the "trade union" activities, the Association has acted primarily as a professional organisation.

Till 2002, when the Council of Administration of Courts and the Court en banc were set up under the Courts Act, the Estonian judges had no self-government bodies. The EKoÜ was the channel through which the judiciary was able to stand up for its interests, communicate with the legislative and executive powers, and voice its positions on issues regarding the judicial system and the judges. Till then, the Association's annual meeting was almost the only annual forum where the judiciary was able to discuss the problems important to it. In the second half of the 1990s, the management board of the Association also held extended meetings attended by the chairmen of the courts. These meetings played an important role in shaping the common positions of judges on the administrative model of the courts and on the social guarantees and training of judges.

The Code of Conduct for Estonian judges was adopted at the Association's general meeting on 15 March 1994 on the initiative of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court R. Maruste. On 13 February 2004, the Court en banc adopted the Code of Ethics of the Estonian judges, which was chiefly drafted by the EKoÜ members; the former Code of Conduct was one of the source documents used in preparing the draft.

Throughout the Association's period of existence, judges have now and then had problems with their media relations. This question was particularly new and problematic for the judges during the early years of the EKoÜ, which is why the Association's balancing and advisory role was more called upon. Although major courts now employ press representatives, the Association considers it to be one of its goals to contribute to the objective media coverage of the work of courts and judges. As an example of the activities undertaken toward this goal, the EKoÜ, in cooperation with the Estonian Newspapers Association, will carry out training for journalists this autumn.

The Association and its members have actively participated in the discussions on the issues of administration of the courts, which have been topical almost throughout the Association's period of activity and continue to be so. A representative of the Association has regularly participated in the work of the Council of Administration of Courts since its foundation. One of the current priorities of developing the judicial system is the development of the courts' information system. We are glad that the EKoÜ representatives have been involved in these processes. The Association's chairman is a member of the management team of E-File and the EKoÜ's members belong to the working groups for various types of procedures. Training of judges has been an important issue at all times. In the 1990s, the Association was active in analysing the judges' follow-up training and other issues relating to the training of judges. The Association's role in this area is also important because the law did not directly give judges the right to have their say in these issues. The situation changed when the new Courts Act was adopted in 2002; now the Court en banc elects the representatives of judges to the judges' training council.

The Association and its members have contributed to legal drafting in Estonia. The EKoÜ has been recognised as a representative organisation of judges and is regularly asked for advice on the draft laws relating to the development of the judicial system and judicial proceedings. The Association, with the help of its members, has been giving advice to the extent that it has had the necessary ideas and resources.

International cooperation with colleagues, inclusive of the judges' association in other countries has also been important. The Association has given its members the possibility to participate in professional conferences and to acquaint themselves with the work of the courts in foreign countries. Since admission to the IAJ, the Association's representatives have participated in annual meetings of the IAJ and EAJ (European Association of Judges). Contacts with colleagues in Germany, Austria, Finland and the Baltic states have been the most frequent. Various conferences have been held in Estonia and Finland in cooperation with the Finnish Association of Judges: the first of them was held in Finland in 1995 and the latest one, dedicated to the "Written and unwritten rules of judiciary ethics", took place in May 2003 in Tallinn.

A joint meeting of the representatives of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian judges was held on 16 November 1993 in Jurmala, Latvia; the meeting considered it necessary to enter into an agreement for the foundation of the Council of the Baltic Associations of Judges and for further cooperation. The agreement set out that the Council of the Baltic Associations of Judges was a permanent body of the Estonian, Latvian and Estonian Associations of Judges, which would meet once a year to discuss the important issues faced by the judicial powers of these countries. Four judges from each of the Baltic States are elected to the Council (one from the Association of Judges and one from each instance of the courts). The statutes of the Council of the Baltic Associations of Judges were adopted on 26-28 September 1994 at a conference in Tartu. Tallinn Circuit Court Judge Mare Merimaa has been Estonian leader of the Council's activities, as well as the long-time Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Council.

The EKoÜ has also cooperated with other professional organisations of lawyers in Estonia: the Association of Prosecutors and the Estonian Lawyers' Union. The Association has a long history of cooperation with the Estonian Moot Court Society since its foundation in the academic year 1997/98. Members of the Association have participated in evaluating competition works in the written round and as judges in the final oral round. The EKoÜ has given prizes to the winners.

Since 2004, the EKoÜ has a banner that has been so far awarded to the members Hurma Kiviloo, Uno Lõhmus, Jaano Odar and Nelja Zaitseva. The banner is a token of recognition, which according to its statute is awarded to a person or a group of persons for the best deed of a year. The banner may also be awarded to a retiring member of the Association who has worked as a judge for at least 20 years, and on other occasions for the services rendered for the development and strengthening of Estonia's court system and for the protection of the interests of the judiciary.

Social events have also played a major role in uniting and acquainting the judges. Training and holiday tours to Austria, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Sardinia and Corsica and Turkey have been organised for the Association members and their families between the years 1998–2005. Since 1993 it was a fine tradition for the EKoÜ for many years to organise a Judges' Day and a conference in winter. The Association has also supported the traditional summer gathering of judicial workers. Sports have also not been forgotten: over the years, the Association's team has competed with prosecutors and attorneys-at-law in basketball, volleyball, table tennis and chess. A new event is being held for the EKoÜ members now – an event, at Maarja Village, for disabled children in the Põlva county.

What could the next 15 years be like for the Association? This will depend on the development of the Estonian state and judicial system, as well as on the members themselves. The EKoÜ has had its good and bad times, but it is a fact that judges need their own professional organisation. The professional organisation has to be the constantly active and authoritative pressure group, which via the joint efforts of its members can always stand for the independence and common interests of the judges and have its say in legal drafting.

Kersti Kerstna-Vaks
Member of the Management Board of the Estonian Association of Judges (1995–1999; 2005–2009)



History of the Estonia's Court System


Creation of court system 1918 – 1920

On 24 February 1918 the "Manifesto to all Peoples of Estonia" of the Board of Elders of the Estonian Diet, declaring Estonia's sovereignty, was published. The Manifesto declared the principles on which the democratic republic was to be built.

Section 1 of the Manifesto stated the following: "All citizens of the Republic of Estonia irrespective of their religion, nationality and political views, shall enjoy equal protection before the laws and the court of the Republic." Section 4 of the Manifesto required that the Provisional Government "immediately set up courts for the protection of security of the citizens."

On 18 November 1918 the Provisional Government issued a regulation entitled "Establishment of provisional courts", which was the first piece of legislation of the Estonian state concerning the courts.

In November 1918 the Tallinn Circuit Court as a national court of appeal commenced its activities in Tallinn. Pursuant to the order of the then Minister of Justice Jüri Jaakson all courts on the territory of the Republic of Estonia were to commence work on 2 December 1918.

1918–1920 Jüri Jaakson was the Minister of Justice of the Provisional Government and of the Government of the Republic. On 13 November 1918, Jaak Reichmann, who was appointed the first Chairman of the Court of Appeal, became the first judge of the sovereign Estonian state appointed to office by the Provisional Government.

Estonia's Courts 1920 – 1940

Thus, by 1920 the system of justice had been launched. The court system then had three instances, like today, but it had four links. The justices of the peace or the magistrates constituted first link of the then court system. The appellation instances of the justices of the peace were the Commissions of the peace, later known as circuit courts. The third link was the national Court of Appeal – the Kohtupalat, later the Kohtukoda. The Supreme Court formed the fourth link. A peculiarity of the whole system was that all courts functioned as courts of first instance in regard to certain cases.

The end of the court system in 1940

The developments of the first half of 1940 brought about changes in the court system, too. In the summer of 1940 the power to appoint and release judges was taken from the President of the Republic and vested in the Council of People's Commissars. The new government actively started to release from office and arrest judges.

On 16 November 1940 the Presidium of the Provisional Supreme Council of the Estonian SSR passed a decree on reorganisation of the judicial system. In 1940 and 1941 the judges of lower instance courts were relocated, some were released from office forever. The magistrates and circuit courts were maintained. The Supreme Court of the Estonian SSR was formed on the basis of the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Estonia ceased to exist.

Re-establishment of court system 1990 – 1993

On 16 May 1990 the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia adopted the Principles of Temporary Procedure of Estonian Government Act, putting an end to the subjection of the Supreme Court of Estonia to the Supreme Court of the USSR. The administration of justice on Estonian territory was separated from the judicial power of the USSR and given into the sole competence of Estonian courts.

Late in the evening of 20 August 1991 the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia passed a resolution "on the independence of the Estonian State and on the formation of the Constitutional Assembly", by which the independent Republic of Estonia was restored.

A few months later, in October, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia passed the Republic of Estonia Courts Act and the Status of Judges Act. The referred Acts were passed to resolve the issues related to the judicial office and functioning of the court system. These Acts were the foundation for the creation of a three-level court system. The next important step was taken in the spring of 1992, when the Supreme Council passed a resolution on the judicial reform. According to the resolution the Supreme Court was to be re-established.

On 28 June 1992 the Constitution was adopted by a referendum. The main organisational task of that time was to find people to perform the judicial tasks. For example, in 1993 there were 120 vacant judicial offices, the filling of which proved easier than expected.

Estonia's courts 1993 – present

Pursuant to the Constitution Estonia has a three-level court system, comprising the county courts and administrative courts, the circuit courts and the Supreme Court.

On 19 June 2002 a new Courts Act was passed, which entered into force on 29 July 2002. A very important change introduced by the Act was the establishment of the Council for Administration of Courts. The aim of establishing the Council was to involve the judges of all court instances in making the decisions concerning the whole judicial system, as up to then it was only the Ministry of Justice who had governed the first and second court instances. The creation of the Council for Administration of Courts was an important step in the formation of an integral and independent court system, as referred to in the Constitution.

On 1 May 2004 Estonia acceded to the European Union. Estonian courts became the courts of the European Union and Estonian judges became European judges who, in their daily work, resort also to the European legislation, alongside the Estonian law.

Since 2006 the issues of integrity and independence of the court system have been discussed with increasing intensity. On 1 December 2006 the first meeting for the discussion of development principles of the judicial system was held, and on 9 February 2007 the Estonian Court en banc adopted the principles of development of the judicial system, which envisage the merger of all three court instances into a single independent and self-administering whole.