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How to proceed? - Estonia

Please note that the original language version of this page Estonian has been amended recently. The language version you are now viewing is currently being prepared by our translators.

1 Do I have to go to court or is there another alternative?

It is possible to resolve legal disputes by judicial or extrajudicial means. In both cases, you may appoint specialist professionals (lawyers, attorneys-at-law, notaries, etc.) who have knowledge of the Estonian legal system.

Extrajudicial dispute resolution

If mutual negotiations have been unsuccessful and it has not been possible to reach an agreement, you may appoint a lawyer (jurist) or an attorney-at-law (advokaat). They have comprehensive knowledge of the legal system and will assist you in defending your interests and reaching the required compromises. You may also agree with the other party to resolve the dispute out of court through either the conciliation or the arbitration procedure.

Conciliation is an extrajudicial method of dispute resolution in which the parties to the dispute choose a conciliator or appear before a conciliation body. The conciliator may be a notary, an attorney-at-law or another person appointed by the parties. A conciliation body is a body at state or local government level, e.g. the copyright committee, a consumer complaints committee, rental disputes committee, etc. A conciliator is an impartial person who facilitates communication between the parties with the aim of assisting them find a solution to their dispute. Conciliators may also act as advisers and put forward their own proposals for a solution, but the final decision rests with the parties concerned. Any decision reached in the conciliation procedure is binding on the parties. If one party to the agreement refuses to perform their obligation, the other party may take the case to court.

The arbitration procedure is another method of alternative dispute resolution. As the panel of the arbitration board is determined by the parties themselves, they can be certain about the knowledge, experience and impartiality of the arbitrators. The parties also have the right to choose which language is used, the law which applies and the rules of procedure. An arbitration board may be formed for a single case or operate on a permanent basis. The Arbitration Board of the Chamber of Notaries (Notarite Koja vahekohus) and the Court of Arbitration of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Eesti Kaubandus-Tööstuskoja (EKTK) arbitraažikohus) are two examples of permanent arbitration boards. The Court of Arbitration of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is often used for resolving disputes arising from international economic relationships. A decision delivered by an arbitration board is final and binding on the parties, i.e. the dispute cannot be taken further to court.

In addition to arbitration and conciliation, there are also particular committees which may resolve disputes before they are taken to court. For example:

Labour disputes may first of all be referred to a labour dispute committee (töövaidluskomisjon) for resolution. A labour dispute committee is a pre-trial, independent body that resolves individual labour disputes. Both employees and employers have the right to address a committee whilst remaining exempt from state fees. A labour dispute committee may be addressed in order to resolve any disputes arising from labour relations. When exercising the right to address a labour dispute committee, it is important to note that the committee resolves financial claims not exceeding EUR 10 000. Claims exceeding EUR 10 000 are resolved by a court. The application submitted to the labour dispute committee should set out the circumstances that are relevant to the dispute. For instance, when challenging the cancellation of an employment contract, the time and reason for cancellation should be given. It is necessary to describe the nature of the disagreement between the parties, i.e. what the employee or the employer has failed to do or has done illegally. Any statements and claims will need to be substantiated and, for that reason, any circumstances that are supported by documentary evidence (employment contract, mutual agreements or correspondence between the employee and the employer, etc.) or any reference to any other evidence or witnesses should be included. This documentary evidence, which substantiates the claim of the employee or the employer, should be enclosed with the application when it is submitted. If the applicant considers it necessary to invite a witness to the meeting, the witness’s name and address should be included in the application.

Claims arising from a contract between a consumer and a trader can be resolved by a consumer complaints committee (tarbijakaebuste komisjon). A consumer complaints committee is competent to settle disputes arising from contracts between consumers and traders if the parties have not been able to settle the disputes by agreement and if the value of the disputed goods or services is at least EUR 20. Claims arising from death, physical injury or damage to health are not settled by a committee, but must instead be settled in court.
A committee does not settle disputes relating to the provision of health services or legal services or the transfer of immovable property or buildings, or disputes for which the settlement procedure is prescribed by other Acts. Those disputes are settled by the competent institution or court. For instance, the procedure for resolving lease disputes has been set out in the Lease Disputes Resolution Act (üürivaidluse lahendamise seadus).
A consumer complaints committee is competent to settle any disputes relating to losses caused by a defective product, provided that the loss can be determined. If the fact that the loss was caused has been established but the exact amount of the loss cannot be quantified, for example in the event of non-monetary loss or losses arising in the future, the amount of compensation is determined by a court.

If the parties do not wish to resolve a dispute out of court or are unable to do so, the claim may be referred to a court.

2 Is there any time limit to bring a court action?

There is a fixed deadline for bringing a court action for some claims which expire. These claims are set out in legislation.

  • The limitation period for claims arising from a transaction is three years.
  • The limitation period for claims arising from a contract for services and resulting from the shortcomings of a building is five years. Claims arising from a sales contract and resulting from the shortcomings of a building do not expire before five years have passed since the building was completed.
  • If the shortcomings of a building are caused by deficiencies in the raw materials or other materials used in its construction, the limitation period for claims arising from the deficiencies in those materials is five years.
  • The limitation period for the claims referred to above is ten years if the violation of obligations was intentional.
  • The limitation period for claims relating to the transfer of immovable property, encumbering immovable property with a real right, the transfer or termination of a real right or amendment of the content of a real right is ten years.

3 Should I go to a court in this Member State?

Cases are referred to court under the principle of general jurisdiction. In line with the general provisions, cases fall under the jurisdiction of an Estonian court if an Estonian court is able to adjudicate in accordance with the provisions on competence and jurisdiction or on the basis of an agreement on jurisdiction, unless otherwise provided for by law or an international agreement.

An action against a natural person is filed as appropriate with regard to his or her residence, and an action against a legal entity is filed as appropriate with regard to its registered office. If the residence of a natural person is unknown, an action against the person may be filed on the basis of his or her last known residence.

Where, pursuant to the general provisions, a case does not fall under the jurisdiction of an Estonian court or the jurisdiction cannot be established, and unless otherwise provided for by an international agreement or by law, the case is to be adjudicated by Harju County Court (Harju Maakohus) if:

  • in line with an international agreement the case has to be adjudicated in the Republic of Estonia;
  • the petitioner is a citizen of the Republic of Estonia or has a residence in Estonia, and the petitioner has no way of defending his or her rights in a foreign state or cannot be expected to do so;
  • the case is closely tied to Estonia for some other reason, and the petitioner has no way of defending his or her rights in a foreign state or cannot be expected to do so.

Harju County Court will also adjudicate if the case falls under the jurisdiction of an Estonian court but it is not possible to determine which Estonian court. This also applies if Estonian jurisdiction has been agreed upon without specifying which Estonian court has jurisdiction.

4 If yes, which particular court should I go to in this Member State, given where I live and where the other party lives, or other aspects of my case?


5 Which particular court should I go to in this Member State, given the nature of my case and the amount at stake?

In Estonia, jurisdiction is not determined by the nature of a case or the amount at stake.

6 Can I bring a court action by myself or do I have to go via an intermediary, such as a lawyer?

Unless otherwise provided by law, parties (claimant, defendant, third party) may participate in proceedings in person or through a representative with active legal capacity in civil proceedings. Active legal capacity in civil proceedings is the capacity of a person to exercise civil procedural rights and perform civil procedural obligations in court. Persons with restricted active legal capacity do not have active legal capacity in civil proceedings, unless they are an adult and the restriction of their active legal capacity does not relate to exercising civil procedural rights or performing civil procedural obligations. Minors of at least 15 years of age have the right to participate in proceedings together with their legal representative.

The capacity of a person to exercise civil procedural rights and act to perform civil procedural obligations in court means, among other things, that the contractual representative has specialist legal knowledge and is proficient in Estonian.

A contractual representative in a court may be either an attorney-at-law or another person who has acquired at least a state-recognised Master’s Degree in law, an equivalent qualification within the meaning of Section 28(22) of the Republic of Estonia Education Act (Eesti Vabariigi haridusseadus) or an equivalent foreign qualification.

A natural person may take part in court proceedings either in person or through a contractual representative. Personal participation in a case does not deprive the participant of the right to have a representative or adviser in the matter.

A legal entity is represented in court by a member of its management board (legal representative), unless otherwise provided for in law or in its articles of association. The management board or the member of the management board may authorise a contractual representative to participate in the court proceedings. The existence of such a representative does not prejudice the participation of a legal representative of the legal entity in court proceedings.

In certain cases provided for by law, a representative is appointed for a person or entity by the court.

Participants in court proceedings may use an adviser to act on their behalf in court and to provide explanations. The adviser’s actions are deemed to have been approved by the participant and are taken as equivalent to the actions of the participant, unless the participant immediately corrects the adviser or withdraws any statements made by the adviser. An adviser is not permitted to perform procedural acts or file petitions.

7 To initiate the case, who exactly do I apply to: to the reception office or the office of the clerk of the court or any other administration?

When sending a statement of claim in writing, indicate the name of the court to which the statement is intended to be submitted. A statement of claim can also be submitted electronically via the portal When presenting a statement of claim in person, it must be delivered to the office of the relevant court.

8 In which language can I make my application? Can I do it orally or does it have to be in writing? Can I send my application by fax or by e-mail?

Judicial proceedings and court business are conducted in Estonian. Statements of claim must be submitted in Estonian and in written form. Statements of claim submitted to the court must be signed; they can also be signed electronically via the portal or sent by e-mail with a digital signature. A statement of claim may be sent by fax only if the original, i.e. a signed statement of claim, is submitted to the court at a later date.

9 Are there special forms for bringing actions, or, if not, how must I present my case? Are there elements that have to be included in the file?

There is no specific form for a statement of claim. In addition to the other required information to be included in procedural documents, a statement of claim must set out:

  • the clearly expressed claim of the claimant (the subject of the action);
  • the factual circumstances which constitute the basis for the action (the basis for the action);
  • the evidence in support of the circumstances constituting the basis for the action, and a specific reference to which facts the claimant intends to prove with which piece of evidence;
  • whether the claimant agrees to a written procedure or wishes the case to be heard in court;
  • the value of the action, unless the action is for payment of a specific sum of money.

If the claimant wishes the action to be heard in a documentary procedure, the claimant must indicate this in the action.

If the claimant is represented in the proceedings by a third party, the details of the representative must also be included in the action. If the claimant wishes to use the assistance of an interpreter, this must be indicated in the statement of claim, if possible with the details of the interpreter.

If the action is filed with a court other than the court that would apply under the principle of general jurisdiction in respect of the defendant, this must be justified.

In addition to the details listed above, a statement of claim in a divorce case must also indicate the names and dates of birth of any common dependent children of the spouses, who looks after and raises the children, who the children live with, and the proposed arrangements concerning parental rights and bringing up the children after the divorce.

If the claimant or defendant is a legal entity entered in a public register, a copy of the registry card, an extract from the register or the registration certificate is to be included with the action, unless the court is able to check this information in the register itself. As regards other legal entities, other evidence concerning the existence and legal capacity of the entity should be provided.

10 Will I have to pay court charges? If so, when? Will I have to pay a lawyer right from the introduction of my application?

A state fee is a sum of money which, by law, is payable to the Republic of Estonia for the performance of a procedural act. The State Fees Act (riigilõivuseadus) sets out which procedural acts are subject to state fees.

If, under the State Fees Act, a state fee at a rate lower than normal is charged for the filing of an action or an appeal by electronic means through the website in the e-File procedural information system (hereinafter ‘through the website’) and if a participant in the proceedings is unable for good reasons to file a petition or appeal by electronic means through that website, the court may on the basis of a justified request allow the procedural act to be carried out at the lower rate of the state fee.

A state fee is charged for reviewing a petition, appeal or application, issuing an administrative act or issuing a document, or for any other act performed by the body charging the state fee at the request of the person paying the state fee. This occurs under the terms of and pursuant to the procedure provided by law which entitles the person paying the state fee to a certain right, good or other benefit for which a state fee is to be paid in the cases and in the amount set out in the State Fees Act.

If a person requests legal aid from the state, that person need not pay for the legal assistance provided by an attorney-at-law appointed under the legal aid system, or need not pay for it immediately or in full.

11 Can I claim legal aid?

Legal aid is granted to a person requesting it if:

  • the person requesting legal aid is unable to pay the legal costs as a result of his or her financial situation or is able to pay them only in part or in instalments, and
  • there is sufficient reason to believe that the intended participation in the proceedings will be successful.

It is presumed that participation in proceedings will be successful if the grounds for the petition for which legal aid is requested are set out in a legally convincing manner and the petition is backed up by the facts. The importance of the case to the person requesting legal aid is also taken into consideration when assessing the chances of the person’s participation in the proceedings being successful.

12 From which moment is my action officially considered to have been brought? Will the authorities give me some feedback on whether or not my case has been properly presented?

An action is considered to have been brought at the time when the action arrives at the court. This applies only if the action was served on the defendant at a later date. A statement of claim is deemed to have been officially submitted when the state fee in the amount provided for by law has been paid, if the statement of claim conforms to the requirements provided for in law and contains no omissions, and when the court has notified the person submitting the statement of claim that it has been admitted. The content and format of a statement of claim must conform to the requirements set out in law.

Provided that all the information has been submitted correctly, the court will, within a reasonable period of time, decide whether to admit the statement of claim or refuse to admit it, or whether it is necessary to set a deadline for shortcomings to be eliminated. If there are shortcomings in a statement of claim, the court will set the person submitting the statement of claim a deadline to rectify this.

13 Will I have detailed information about the timing of subsequent events (such as the time allowed for me to enter an appearance)?

The court will notify the party in writing of the subsequent steps in the proceedings.

The national language version of this page is maintained by the respective EJN contact point. The translations have been done by the European Commission service. Possible changes introduced in the original by the competent national authority may not be yet reflected in the translations. Neither the EJN nor the European Commission accept responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to any information or data contained or referred to in this document. Please refer to the legal notice to see copyright rules for the Member State responsible for this page.

Last update: 13/05/2014