Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
What will the last year be remembered for when it comes to administering justice? From an outside perspective – lurching from one crisis (a healthcare emergency) to another (a potential national security crisis) also naturally had an effect on the work of the judiciary. Administrative courts received about 30 appeals, concerning denials of international protection to aliens or entry bans established on foreign nationals. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had the greatest effect on courts adjudicating civil matters. A total of 365 family law matters were received by courts, most of which concerning guardianship of minors. It is gratifying to note that courts have coped very well with the crisis management and have adapted rapidly to the changes. For this, the entire judicial system deserves recognition.
However, looking at the court system from the inside, we cannot overlook that an extensive generational shift is under way in the court system, which is leading to deepening concern about finding replacements for today’s judges. During the last year, not a month has gone by where I have not been contacted by a long-serving judge who is looking to retire. The generational shift does not show signs of abating – on the contrary. 2023 will, I fear, see one of the greatest waves of retirement letters from judges going on pension, as it will mark the 30-year anniversary of judges appointed in 1993, and 30 years of service entitles judges to the pension for years worked regardless of their age. Unfortunately, we must admit that the court system has long had difficulty finding outstanding jurists to fill the positions that are becoming vacant. The profession of judge may not be appealing to young people in a rapidly changing world that offers a bevy of opportunities. Because of that, a number of questions need to be answered, such as how to modernize the court system as an organisation and how to ensure that the courts are an attractive employer. We plan to discuss these topics at this year’s court en banc. The court en banc will also seek answers to the question of what type of persons we seek as a judge, and what social guarantees, job benefits and development opportunities the system offers, or should offer them. Looking to the future, we can say that the winds of change are affecting the judicial system as an organisation as well as its content, which is our people.
This latest yearbook of the Estonian courts also includes discourse on the abovementioned topics: leaders of the judiciary discuss the future of administration of the courts, professor Mulevičienė from Lithuania’s Mykolas Romeris University introduces a model for competence of judges based on comparative analysis of European countries, focusing on the process of selection of judges. The yearbook also covers topics related to judges’ social guarantees – a look back on the reform of occupational pensions and its consequences and aspects related to judges’ incapacity for work. Besides annual summaries of the work of judges’ self-administration that have become a tradition, we can take a deeper look at some of the frankly fascinating units that provide service to all of the courts: the Head of Communications of the Estonian courts, the head of the courts’ phone line and the courts’ data protection specialist all talk about their work.
I hope the yearbook will be a fruitful medium for the discussion of important topics for the court system and that every reader will find something enlightening and interesting to them here. I’d like to express thanks to my colleagues and all of the contributors for their efforts in making the publication of this yearbook possible!