Legal professions – introduction
The legal professions in Estonia are made up of:
- public prosecutor;
- lay judge;
- assistant judges and judicial clerks;
- a notary;
- judicial enforcement officers;
- trustees in bankruptcy
The Prosecutor’s Office is a government agency that falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. It consists of two levels: the Office of the Prosecutor General (as the superior prosecutor’s office) and four district prosecutor’s offices.
The work area of the Office of the Prosecutor General covers the whole of Estonia and the work areas of District Prosecutor’s Offices coincide with the work areas of police prefectures. The Prosecutor’s Office is headed by the Prosecutor General, who is appointed to office for five years by the Estonian Government following a proposal of the Minister for Justice, having heard the opinion of the Estonian Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee.
Each year at Parliament’s spring session the Prosecutor General presents to the Constitutional Committee of the Parliament an overview of performance during the previous calendar year of the duties assigned to the Prosecutor’s Office by law.
A District Prosecutor’s Office is headed by a chief prosecutor, who is also appointed to office for five years by the Minister for Justice on the proposal of the Prosecutor General.
In total there are eight types of prosecutor in Estonia: Prosecutors in the Public Prosecutor’s Office are the Chief Public Prosecutor, leading public prosecutors, public prosecutors and assistant prosecutors; prosecutors in district prosecutor’s offices are leading prosecutors, senior prosecutors, specialised prosecutors, district prosecutors and assistant prosecutors.
See also the Prosecutor’s Office Act.
Role and duties
Under the Prosecutor’s Office Act:
- participate in the planning of hot pursuits for the prevention and detection of criminal offences;
- leads pre-trial criminal proceedings ensuring its lawfulness and effectiveness;
- represents public prosecution in court;
- fulfils other duties imposed on the Prosecutor’s Office by law.
The Prosecutor’s Office carries out its duties under the Prosecutor’s Office Act in an independent manner.
As the leader of criminal proceedings, the prosecutor guides the investigating body in collecting evidence and decides whether to bring charges against a person on the basis of the facts established.
Under the Statutes of the Prosecutor’s Office:
The Office of the Prosecutor General:
- ensure the legality and effectiveness of pre-trial criminal proceedings and represent public prosecution before all courts at all levels of professional, economic, military, environmental, anti-justice and organised crime offences which are cross-border or where there is a high public interest, crimes against humanity and international security, more serious crimes against the state, crimes committed by prosecutors and other crimes ordered by the General Prosecutor;
- analyses, monitors and advises the activities of district prosecutor’s offices and analyses and generalises judicial and prosecution practice;
- performs obligations arising from international cooperation, including participation in the work of Eurojust;
- participate in drafting draft acts, draft Government regulations and orders as well as draft regulations and directives of the Minister of Justice regulating the activities of the Prosecutor’s Office;
- participate in elaborating development plans related to the Prosecutor’s Office and its tasks;
- organise the public relations activities of the Prosecutor’s Office and shall inform the public of Prosecutor’s Office activities;
- organises the staffing and training of the Prosecutor’s Office and the issue of health and safety at work for officials and staff, keeps staff records;
- organise the management of prosecutors’ competitions;
- draw up the draft budget of the Prosecutor’s Office and shall ensure targeted use of budgetary resources;
- organise the administration of the state assets in the possession of the Prosecutor’s Office;
- performs other tasks assigned to it by law, a decision of the Riigikogu, a decree of the President of the Republic, a regulation and order of the Government of the Republic and a regulation and order of the Minister of Justice.
A judge must be an Estonian citizen who has obtained a nationally recognised Master’s Degree in law, an equivalent qualification within the meaning ofSection 28(22) of the Republic of Estonia Education Act or an equivalent foreign qualification, is proficient in Estonian at advanced level, is of high moral character and has the abilities and personal characteristics necessary to work as a judge. Judges are appointed for life. The Minister of Justice has no right of command or disciplinary authority over judges. A judge can be removed from office only on the basis of a court judgement that has entered into force. Judges may serve until the age of 67, but this may be extended.
The following shall not be appointed as a judge:
- anyone convicted of a criminal offence;
- persons who have been removed from the office of judge, notary or bailiff;
- persons who have been expelled from the Estonian Bar Association;
- persons who have been released from the public service for a disciplinary offence;
- persons who are bankrupt;
- persons whose professional activities as an auditor have been terminated except termination on the basis of the application of an auditor;
- persons who have been deprived of the qualification of a patent agent, except deprivation of qualification on the basis of the application of a patent agent.
- who have been deprived of the profession of a sworn translator on the basis of clause 28 (3) 3) of the Sworn Translators Act.
A person who, after obtaining the relevant qualification, has at least five years’ legal experience or has served as a court counsellor or advocate-general for at least three years and has passed or has been exempted from the examination of a judge may be appointed as a judge of a county or administrative court.
Anyone who is an experienced and recognised lawyer and has passed the judge’s exam may be appointed as judge of a district court. Anyone who has worked as a judge immediately prior to their appointment does not have to take the judge’s exam.
Experienced and recognised lawyers may be appointed to the office of justice of the Supreme Court.
Judges are appointed through an open competition.
A judge may not be employed other than in the office of judge, except for in a teaching or research capacity. A judge must inform the President of the Court of all employment other than in the office of judge. Any employment other than in the office of judge must not jeopardise performance of the judge’s official duties or the judge’s impartiality in the administration of justice. A judge may not be a member of the Riigikogu or a member of a municipal or municipal council; a member of a political party; founder, managing partner, member of the board of directors or supervisory board of a company or manager of a branch of a foreign company; insolvency administrator, member of the insolvency panel or compulsory administration of immovable property; arbitrator chosen by the parties to the dispute.
A judge may be removed from office only by a court judgment. Criminal charges against a judge of a court of first or second instance may be brought during his or her term of office only on the proposal of the Supreme Court en banc with the consent of the President of the Republic. Criminal charges against a justice of the Supreme Court may be brought during his or her term of office only on the proposal of the Chancellor of Justice with the consent of a majority in the Estonian Parliament.
The requirements applicable to judges, their preparatory service and their obligations are laid down in the Courts Act.
Role and duties
The judicial profession is regulated by law. A code of ethics has been adopted by all Estonian judges sitting together (en banc). More information can be found on the Estonian Courts website and on the website of the Supreme Court.
The role of a judge is to administer justice in accordance with the Constitution and legal acts, on the basis of which the judge decides on a just solution for the parties to the case. A judge develops the law by interpreting legal acts and undertaking research.
A judge performs his or her official duties in an impartial manner without self-interest and observes service interests even outside his or her professional activities. A judge must behave impeccably both in and outside his or her professional activities and refrain from acts which may damage the reputation of the court. A judge may not disclose information which becomes known to him or her at a court session held in private or in discussions held when reaching a settlement. The duty of confidentiality applies at all times, even after the judge has retired. The judge must instruct first-instance judges with less than three years’ service, those carrying out a preparatory programme for assistant judges and students who are trainees. A judge may not have more than two mentors at the same time. A judge is required to develop his or her professional knowledge and skills regularly and to participate in training.
Social guarantees for judges
Judges enjoy different social guarantees by law: salaries, bonuses, judges‘pensions, judges’ leave, judge’s clothing and other social guarantees.
The salary of a judge is laid down in the Act on Official Salaries of Senior State Staff.
The basis for determining the judge’s pension is laid down in the Courts Act.
A judge’s pension is a judge’s old-age pension, a judge’s retirement pension, a judge’s invalidity pension and a survivor’s pension of a member of the judge’s family. A judge’s pension is not paid during employment as a judge. If a retired judge is employed elsewhere he or she receives the judge’s pension in full regardless of earnings. A judge’s pension is not paid to anyone expelled from office for a disciplinary offence or convicted of an intentionally committed criminal offence. A judge’s pension is withdrawn from anyone convicted of an offence against the administration of justice.
The judge is entitled to annual leave. Annual leave shall be 35 calendar days and additional leave shall be granted up to seven calendar days in total for the period of judicial work under the conditions described in the Courts Act.
Lay judges participate in the administration of justice in county courts only in criminal cases concerning a crime of the first degree. A lay judge has the same status, rights and duties as a judge in the administration of justice. A citizen of Estonia aged between 25 and 70 years who is resident in Estonia and who has knowledge of Estonian at C1 level or equivalent in accordance with the Language Act and possesses the appropriate moral characteristics for the exercise of a lay judge may be appointed as a lay judge for a period of four years. A lay judge may not be appointed for more than two consecutive terms.
No person may be appointed as a lay judge if: convicted of a criminal offence; bankruptcy debtor; unfit for health reasons; had a permanent place of residence, that is to say, the address of which is entered in the population register, for less than one year in the territory of the municipality which has nominated him as a lay judge; a court, a prosecutor’s office or a security police service; military service; lawyer, notary or bailiff; Member of the Government of the Republic; Member of a municipal or city government; The President of the Republic; Member of the Estonian Parliament. Anyone who is accused of a criminal offence may not be appointed as a lay judge during the criminal proceedings.
In essence, the role of a lay judge is to represent, in the administration of justice, the outlook of an ordinary person who regards legal proceedings more from a humanitarian than a legal standpoint. Local government councils are responsible for electing candidates to the position of lay judge.
Assistant judges and judicial clerks
An assistant judge is a court official who performs the duties specified by law. An assistant judge is independent, but must comply with the instructions of a judge to the extent prescribed by law. An assistant judge is competent to make entries in registers (e.g. the land register, the commercial register) and to issue regulations on the keeping of registers, including orders imposing a penalty. Assistant judges may implement an accelerated procedure for payment orders. The restrictions on holding the office of judge also apply to assistant judges.
A person who has obtained a nationally recognised Master’s degree in the law field of law, a corresponding qualification within the meaning ofSection 28(22) of the Republic of Estonia Education Act, or a corresponding foreign qualification, knowledge of Estonian at level C1 or equivalent in accordance with the Language Act, has a high moral character, has completed a preparatory programme for assistant judges, has not been exempted by the selection board, may be appointed as assistant judge. A person who has passed a judge’s examination may also be appointed as assistant judge.
The following may not be appointed as an assistant judge: anyone convicted of a criminal offence; persons who have been removed from the office of judge, notary or bailiff; persons who have been expelled from the Estonian Bar Association; persons who have been released from the public service for a disciplinary offence; persons who are bankrupt; persons whose professional activities as an auditor have been terminated except termination on the basis of the application of an auditor; persons who have been deprived of the qualification of a patent agent, except deprivation of qualification on the basis of the application of a patent agent. from whom the invitation of a sworn translator has been withdrawn on the basis of Section 28(3)(3) of the Sworn Translator Act; anyone removed from the office of judge due to their unsuitability for office – for three years following their appointment to office.
Assistant judges are appointed through an open competition.
The requirements for assistant judges are laid down in the Courts Act
A judicial clerk is a court official who participates, either independently or under the supervision of a judge, in the preparation and the handling of cases to the extent provided for in the Act governing the court procedure. A judicial clerk has the authority to perform all the same acts and make the same judgments as an assistant judge or other court official pursuant to the Act governing the court procedure. A judicial clerk is independent when performing his or her duties, but must comply with the instructions of a judge to the extent prescribed by law.
The requirements imposed on judicial clerks are the same as those imposed on assistant judges. A vacant position of a judicial clerk is filled by way of public competition.
The following may not be appointed as a judicial clerk: anyone who has been punished for an intentionally committed criminal offence; anyone who has been punished for an intentionally committed offence against the state, irrespective of whether the conviction details have been expunged; anyone whose right to work in the role of judicial clerk has been withdrawn under a court judgement having legal force; anyone who is the next of kin or partner of a person directly supervising a judicial clerk.
In addition to the Advocate General assistant judge (373 Kb), Director of the Court (367 Kb) and the Registrar Kb). fileDownload.do?id=79497cee-fb0b-444e-94a0-401347158b4f
Lawyers include attorneys-at-law and their assistants.
Advocates are members of the Estonian Bar Association and are regulated by the Bar Association Act. Anyone who meets the requirements laid down in the Bar Association Act and has passed the bar examination may be a member of the Estonian Bar Association.
The Estonian Bar Association is a self-governing professional association established to provide legal services in both the private and public interest and protect the professional rights of lawyers. The Estonian Bar Association monitors the professional activities of its members and their compliance with requirements for professional ethics. The Estonian Bar Association also organises lawyers’ professional in-service training and the provision of state legal aid. Through its members, the Bar Association ensures the provision of State legal aid.
The Estonian Bar Association acts through its bodies. These include the general assembly, the board, the chairperson, the audit committee, the court of honour and the professional suitability assessment committee.
Attorneys-at-law have the authority:
- to represent and defend clients in court and in pre-trial and other proceedings both in Estonia and abroad;
- to gather evidence;
- to select at will and to use lawful means and measures when providing legal services;
- to obtain from national and local authorities the information needed to provide legal services, to have access to documents and to obtain copies and extracts of them, unless lawyers are prohibited by law from obtaining this information and documentation;
- process personal data of a person other than the customer obtained by contract or by law, including special categories of personal data, without their consent, where this is necessary for the provision of a legal service;
- to verify signatures and copies of documents submitted to the court and other official bodies as part of the legal services provided to a client;
- provide the service of a contact person;
- to act as arbitrators or as conciliators in the procedure laid down in the Conciliation Act;
- to act as trustees in bankruptcy, if they are members of the Chamber.
Assistants of attorneys-at-law have the authority of an attorney-at-law within the limits provided for by law.
Assistant attorneys-at-law are not authorised to act as arbitrators or as conciliators in the procedure laid down in the Conciliation Act. They do not have the authority to represent or defend clients in the Supreme Court unless provided otherwise by law. Assistant attorneys-at-law may not act as trustees in bankruptcy.
An assistant attorney-at-law may provide legal services only under the supervision of his or her patron, who is an attorney-at-law.
When providing legal services a lawyer acts independently and in accordance with the law, the legal acts and decisions adopted by the bodies of the Estonian Bar Association, the requirements for the professional ethics of lawyers, good practice and their conscience.
Information disclosed to a lawyer is confidential. An advocate or an employee of the Bar Association or a law office who is being heard as a witness may not be interrogated or asked to provide explanations concerning matters of which he or she became aware in the course of providing legal services.
Data media related to the provision of legal services by a lawyer are inviolable.
The performance by a lawyer of his or her professional duties may not lead to him or her being identified with a client or the client’s court case.
A lawyer may not be detained, searched or arrested for professional reasons, except on the basis of an order issued by the county court. A law office through which a lawyer provides legal services may not be searched for reasons arising from the lawyer’s professional activities.
A list of lawyers and law offices and other useful information can be found on the website of the Estonian Bar Association. The 'find alawyer' function, however, makesit possible to find a lawyer throughout the European Union.
There are no databases apart from those listed above.
Estonia has no solicitors or legal advisers regulated by law.
All notaries in Estonia have equal competence. The profession of notary is regulated under the Notaries Act. The Ministry of Justice and the Chamber of Notaries are both responsible for the regulation and management of notaries’ professional activities. The Chamber of Notaries is a legal entity under public law, and all notaries appointed to office are members. The tasks for which it is responsible include monitoring whether notaries are carrying out their professional activities in a conscientious and correct manner, harmonising notaries’ professional activities, arranging training for notaries, organising candidate service, administering and developing the electronic information system in relation to notaries, and providing assistance to the Minister of Justice in respect of supervisory activities, etc. The website of the Chamber of Notaries provides information about notaries and notarial duties.
Role and responsibilities
A notary is a holder of office in public law. She or he is empowered by the state to attest, at the request of persons, facts and events that have legal meaning, and to perform other notarial acts in order to ensure legal certainty.
Notaries must be impartial, trustworthy and independent in their activities. They are obliged to ascertain the actual intentions of the parties to a transaction and the circumstances required for a correct transaction to be performed and to explain to the parties the different ways of carrying out the transaction and the consequences of the transaction.
Notaries perform the following notarial acts, where so requested:
- provide notarial certification (various contracts, acts of delegation, wills) and notarial authentication (copies, signatures, print-outs, etc.);
- settle succession matters;
- Issuing, on the basis of Article 60 and Annex II of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (OJ L 351, 20.12.2012, p. 1-32), a certificate concerning the drawing up of a notarial instrument enforceable in Estonia;
- Issuing, on the basis of Article 59(1) and Annex II of Regulation (EU) No 650/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and acceptance and enforcement of authentic instruments in matters of succession and the creation of a European Certificate of Succession (OJ L 201, 27.07.2012, p. 107-134), the issue of a certificate concerning the legal force of a notarial instrument in Estonia and the issuing of a certificate on the drawing up of a notarial instrument enforceable in Estonia pursuant to Article 60(2) and Annex II;
- issuing, on the basis of Article 48(3) and Annexes III and IV of Council Regulation (EC) No 4/2009 on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and cooperation in matters relating to maintenance obligations (OJ L 007, 10.01.2009, p. 1-79) an extract of the drawing up of a notarial instrument to be enforced in Estonia;
- declare authorisation documents invalid in accordance with the Notarisation Act;
- declare agreements concluded through a lawyer acting as a conciliator or through another notary to be enforceable;
- issue certificates (apostilles);
- at the request of legal persons, submit their annual financial reports to the court keeping the register;
- confirm marriages and divorces and prepare marriage and divorce entries;
- accept deposits of money, securities and documents;
- enable access to the data entered in the register of the land registry department or registration department or to a document maintained in the register;
- submit notices and applications at the request of an undertaking, receive documents or other information from economic administrative authorities and deliver an administrative act to an undertaking;
- entry in the register of data at the request of the economic operator;
- provision of beneficial ownership data at the request of a legal person or a trustee.
The client must pay the notary the fee laid down by law for these transactions.
Notaries may offer the following official services:
- legal counselling outside of the attestation procedure;
- advice on taxation law and foreign law, whether or not as part of an attestation procedure;
- offer conciliation pursuant to the Conciliation Act;
- Act as an arbitrator on the basis of the Code of Civil Procedure;
- conduct auctions, voting, lotteries and the casting of lots, and verify the results;
- taking oaths and the authentication of sworn certificates;
- forward petitions and notices not related to official duties and issue certificates concerning the forwarding or impossibility to forward such petitions and/or notices;
- the provision of a contact person’s service;
- accept deposits of money – with the exception of cash – securities, documents and other items if this is not a notarial act or an official duty resulting from a notarial act;
- respond to a request for explanation submitted by an undertaking
Information on the official services offered by notaries can be found on the website of the Chamber of Notaries. The fees for notaries’ services are agreed between the client and the notary before the service is provided.
Other legal professions
In Estonia, this is a liberal legal profession: bailiffs act on their own behalf and bear responsibility for their actions. A bailiff must be impartial and responsible in his or her duties. Bailiffs’ official activities are regulated under the Bailiffs Act.
A joint professional organisation for bailiffs and trustees in bankruptcy, the Chamber of Bailiffs and Trustees in Bankruptcy (hereinafter the Chamber), has been in operation since January 2010. Bailiffs’ official activities, their supervision, disciplinary liability and professional association activities are regulated under the Bailiffs Act. The Chamber’s task is to develop and promote free legal professions, including the development and monitoring of good professional and professional practices, the drawing up of recommendations for the harmonisation of professional practice, the organisation of continuous training, the development of information systems, etc. The Chamber also has an Honorary Court of Justice. Further information on the activities of the Chamber is available on its website.
A bailiff’s professional duties are:
- to carry out enforcement procedures in accordance with the Code of Enforcement Procedure;
- to serve documents in accordance with the procedural codes;
- to make inventories of estates and administer estates in accordance with the Law of Succession Act;
- in the cases and in accordance with the procedures laid down by law, at the request of a court or administrative body, conducting an auction outside enforcement proceedings;
- mediation of foreign maintenance under the Family Benefits Act.
The bailiff’s fee for carrying out these official duties is laid down in the Bailiffs Act.
By request from a person, a bailiff may perform the following as professional services:
- conduct movable and immovable property auctions
- deliver documents;
- to give legal advice and to draw up legal documents if his or her education complies with the provisions of Section 47(1)(1) of the Courts Act;
- to provide a legal fact-finding service outside court proceedings;
- Act as a conciliator in accordance with the Conciliation Act;
- serve as arbitrators under the Code of Civil Procedure.
Bailiffs are entitled to refuse to provide a professional service.
The conditions for the provision of professional services and the remuneration arrangements shall be agreed with the applicant in writing prior to the provision of the service. The terms and remuneration agreed shall be in conformity with good professional practice.
In the provision of professional services, bailiffs may not exercise those rights that have been granted to bailiffs by law for carrying out their professional duties or which arise from his or her office.
Information regarding the services provided by bailiffs can be found on the Chamber’s website. http://www.kpkoda.ee/
Administrative supervision of the activities of bailiffs is carried out by the Ministry of Justice and the Chamber.
Bailiffs are liable for damage wrongfully caused in the course of his or her professional activities, including if the damage was caused by an employee of his or her office. If claims for the compensation of damage caused by the professional act of a bailiff cannot be satisfied from the assets of a bailiff or any other person liable for the damage or if such claims cannot be satisfied in full, the Chamber is liable for the damage caused. The State bears final liability for the actions of bailiffs. Both the Chamber and the State possess the right of recourse against the person responsible for the damage; the State also has the right of recourse against the Chamber.
A trustee in bankruptcy is a court-appointed person who, on the basis of his or her role, performs transactions and other acts relating to a bankruptcy estate and represents the debtor in court in disputes relating to a bankruptcy estate. The main obligation of a trustee in bankruptcy is to defend the rights and interests of all creditors and the debtor and to ensure lawful, prompt and financially reasonable bankruptcy proceedings. A trustee in bankruptcy carries out his or her duties personally. The following may act as trustees in bankruptcy: physical persons who have been granted the authority to act as trustees in bankruptcy by the Chamber, attorneys-at-law, statutory auditors and bailiffs. The Chamber shall maintain a list of trustees in bankruptcy. The list includes data on all those entitled to act as trustees in bankruptcy and is accessible to the public on the Chamber’s website. A trustee entered on the list must ensure that the data are accurate.
The main duties of a trustee in bankruptcy are:
- to determine the claims of the creditors, administer the bankruptcy estate, and organise the formation and sale of the estate and the satisfaction of the claims of the creditors out of the estate.
- to determine the reasons for and date of the debtor’s insolvency;
- to arrange, where necessary, for the business activities of the debtor to continue;
- to conduct, where necessary, the liquidation of the debtor, if the debtor is a legal person;
- to provide information to creditors and the debtor in the cases laid down by law;
- to report on their activities and provide information concerning the bankruptcy proceedings to the court, the supervisory official and the bankruptcy committee.
Administrative supervision of the activities of trustees in bankruptcy is carried out by the Ministry of Justice, on the basis of complaints or other data sent to it regarding the trustee and which give reason to believe that the trustee has failed to meet his or her obligations. The Ministry of Justice has the right when monitoring the activities of a trustee to verify the appropriateness and lawfulness of the trustee’s professional activities. The Minister for Justice may take disciplinary action against a trustee who fails to comply with the obligations arising from legal acts laying down the professional activities of trustees in bankruptcy. The Minister for Justice may not take disciplinary action against attorneys-at-law acting as trustees in bankruptcy. However, the Minister does have the right to bring court of honour proceedings in the Bar Association.
In addition to administrative supervision, the activities of trustees in bankruptcy are also monitored by the bankruptcy committee, the general meeting of creditors, the court and the Chamber within their field of competence.
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