History of the Ministry of Justice from 1918 to 1938
First Steps Towards the Rule of Law
On the day next following to the proclaiming of the State of Latvia, on 19 November 1918, the Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis asked the Attorney-at-Law Pēteris Juraševskis to become the Minister of Justice, and the Attorney-at-Law Eduards Strautnieks to hold the office of Associate Minister of Justice. The two above-mentioned offices meant that the two officials had to develop virtually from the beginning the Ministry of Justice – institution designed to ensure the rule of law in Latvia. The Temporary Regulations Concerning the Latvian Courts and Litigation Procedure was approved by the Peoples’ Council of Latvia on 6 December 1918. The said law formed the corner stone of the judicial department and the entire judicial activity – the basic law from which all other laws were later derived.
On 7 December the Temporary Government of Latvia appointed two Senators of Supreme Court. The Temporary Government resolved at its meeting on 16 December 1918 that the judgments of Latvian courts should be announced “To the Order of the Temporary Government of Latvia”. The first legal norms passed by the Temporary Government included the Regulations on Land Register Taxes and Levies and the Regulations on Alienation of Real Estate and Encumbering Thereof with Debts.
Two Ministries of Justice
With the moving of the Temporary Government from Riga to Liepaja in the first days of January 1919 when the Soviet Army was approaching Riga, there was another Ministry of Justice established in Riga under the leadership of Andrievs Niedra; therefore, there were two parallel institutions operating in Latvia governing the judicial matters. Since there was neither the Minister nor Associate Minister approved by the Temporary Government present in Liepāja, there was established the office of Commissionaire on Justice with the rights of Minister. At that time, operation of Parish Courts was resumed. The Judges of Parish Courts made their oaths to the Pastor. On 24 February 1919 the Commissionaire on Justice Kārlis Kvelbergs instructed the Pastors to take the following oaths from the Judges:
“I do hereby promise and swear by the Mighty God to serve loyally to the Temporary Government of Latvia, to comply strictly with the laws of the State, to give judgments at my best conscience and belief, regardless of a person, being aware of my own liability before the Law from my body and my soul, so help me God”.
Originally, the premises of the Ministry of Justice were situated at Dzirnavu iela 87/89 in Riga.
When the Temporary Government moved back to Riga, the Ministry of Justice settled at the former meeting house of the Law Magistrate at Brīvības bulvāris 10. In July 1919 there were 6 servants employed by the Ministry. In the following months, the work of the Ministry was developed, judges were commissioned and the Judicial Department started work. When the Bermont’s people entered, the building in which the Ministry of Justice was situated experienced a number of attacks. Therefore, the Ministry of Justice moved to work in the premises at Baznīcas iela 4a (at that time there was the Central Farmers Union House situated there). When the building at Brīvības bulvāris was restored, the Ministry of Justice returned there.
In 1920, the number of employees was increased to 55. By resolution of 22 December 1921, the Ministry of Justice acquired the building at Antonijas iela 6, where it moved to work from 11 August 1922.
History of the Ministry of Justice from 1940 to 1990
In 1940, the Law on the Structure of Ministry of Justice was abridged, and on 1945 it was made null and void upon approval of the Constitution of LSSR.
In 1960ties there existed no Ministry of Justice as part of the Council of Ministers. Operation of judicial authorities was provided by the Supreme Court. The functions of the Ministry of Justice concerning the surveillance of imprisonment facilities were performed by the LSSR Ministry of Protection of the Public Order established in 1940.
The Ministry was restored I 1971. The Ministry was situated in the building of present Riga Regional Court, together with the Supreme Court and the Bar. In Soviet times, the office of the Minister of Justice was hold by Jānis Dzenītis, Vladimirs Laiviņš, Jānis Salenieks and Juris Kaksītis.
Ministry of Justice After 1990
The first tasks after the regaining of independence included the establishment of independent judicial system. A number of laws were adopted to provide the reform of the judicial authorities, and therefore to facilitate the development of the rule in law towards democracy. The concept of judicial reform was drafted. On 15 December 1992 the Supreme Council passed the Law on the Rule of Law, followed by the Law on Bar, the Law on Land Register, the Law on Notaries, the Law on Prosecution Office, the Law on Satversme Court. The above-listed laws developed the legal framework necessary to carry out reform of the corresponding institutions of judicial system.
In 1991, the Board of Religious Affairs, Citizenship and Immigration Board and the Enterprise Register were incorporated in the Ministry of Justice, and the number of employees was increased to 150.
There was a three-level court system established in Latvia comprising the district or city courts as the first instance courts, regional courts as the appeal instance courts the first instance courts for civil and criminal cases falling into the jurisdiction of regional court in accordance with the Law, and Supreme Court as the appeal instance for the cases tried by regional courts in their capacity of first instance courts, or as cassation instance in all cases tried by district/city courts and regional courts.
The Law on the Rule of Law was enacted on 1 July 1993. On 1995, regional courts were established and the Supreme Court was reorganized.
Five regional courts have been established in the Republic of Latvia: Riga Regional Court, Kurzeme Regional Court, Latgale Regional Court, Vidzeme Regional Court and Zemgale Regional Court. Regional Courts comprise Civil Division and Criminal Division.
The Supreme Court Senate of the Republic of Latvia with Civil Department and Criminal Department, as well as the Supreme Court Chamber – Civil Court Chamber and Criminal Court Chamber – was established in 1995.
The new system
In the course of judicial reform after the regaining of independence in 1992 50% of the judges employed in Soviet time were replaced. Due to the low remuneration and high working load, the number of experienced lawyers willing to work for the courts of independent Latvia was insufficient. The situation improved gradually, with the increase of the judges’ remuneration and strengthening of the independence if courts, and at present the number of experienced lawyers wishing to take the office of judges is sufficient.
An important milestone in the development of judicial system is related to amendments to the Law on Rule of Law approved on 29 January 1997. The said amendments provide for incorporation of land register divisions into the judicial system and management thereof by regional courts. The judges of land register divisions make entries in the Land Register in respect of real estate and register the rights attached to real estate.
The Ministry moved to its present premises in 1994 when the office of Minister was hold by Romāns Apsītis.
The following persons have been holding the office of the Minister of Justice starting from 1991:
At present, the office of the Minister of Justice is hold by Jānis Bordāns, and the central apparatus of the Ministry of Justice is employing the staff of about 240 persons.
History of the Courthouse
The Courthouse means the building in which the supreme court authorities of the State are situated. The Courthouse is a building important to the state not only from contentual but also from visual – architectural point of view.
The building represents modern neoclassicism of 30ties of the 20th century. Its entrance part is accented by pastiched monumental order gallery.
Design by Ulmanis
Location of the Courthouse of Latvia was selected by Dr. Kārlis Ulmanis, President of the State. At his proposal, the previous Senate Chamber building at Brīvības bulvāris 10 was demolished, and the new building – Courthouse was built with extension of the land parcel on Elizabetes iela in direction to Tērbatas iela, thus covering the Ravelina Square and the square Mazais Vērmanes Dārzs. The Ministry of Justice entrusted the Ministry of Interior with preparatory construction works and building supervision. A tender was announced for development of building design, and 8 designs were submitted by the announced deadline. The final draft design of the Courthouse was developed by Architect F. Skujiņš, and the Cabinet of Ministers approved it at their meeting on 29 September 1936.
Immuring of the foundation stone
On 4 December 1936 the building site was already prepared for commencing construction works, and unveiling ceremony took place. The celebration was attended by ministers and representatives of the judicial departments of Estonia and Lithuania. The office of the Minister of Justice was hold at that time by Apsītis.
Representatives of the Minister of Justice of Estonia brought with them a stone of their country with a friendly inscription “To the Court of Latvia from the Minister of Justice of Estonia on 4 December 1936. This stone originating from the land of Estonia was immured in the foundation of the Courthouse of Latvia to attest the continuous cooperation, friendship and solidarity of the courts and court staff of Estonia and Latvia”. Construction of the house counted 250’000 man-days of craftsmen and workers, the building incorporated 2000 cubic meters of stone, 3’200’000 bricks, 2300 square meters central heating radiators and 30 km electric wiring. The total costs of building works made Ls 2’479’700. The façade plating and parts were made of local granite.
The Courthouse first opened to Master and Bar studies on 18 November 1938 – the 20th anniversary of the State.
The formal opening of the Courthouse took place on 9 December 1938. The Courthouse comprised 130 meeting rooms, offices and registry rooms with total volume 56400 cubic meters.
The second estate
The second estate of the building was finished in late 50ties retaining the architectonic image of the first estate. According to the materials of history, it is the present building of Supreme Court.
Layout of the Courthouse has changed with the years, however the original furnishing of some offices is preserved to the maximum extent. These include the office of the Minister of Justice and that of the Secretary of State, with walls covered with wooden panels.
The former Senate Hall, currently used for meetings of the Cabinet of Ministers, is decorated with inscribed sentence of Kārlis Ulmanis: “A single law and justice for all”.
The following story tells about the statue situated in the lobby. The statue can be already seen in photographs of the building dated 1938. She holds in her hands the book of Civil Law passed in 1937 as the basic rule of the Civil Law. With the beginning of Soviet power, the statue was removed to the state museum funds. According to witnesses, the base of statue was places in one room, and the statue itself was laid in a recumbent position in another room. When independence was regained, the museum staff interfeted to have the statue placed in its original location – at the Courthouse.