Foreword by the Chancellor of Justice


Dear Reader

The main task of the Chancellor of Justice – constitutional review – is supported by the Chancellor’s roles as ombudsman, the Ombudsman for Children, the national preventive mechanism against cruel treatment, the supervisor of surveillance agencies, the human rights institution and promoter of the rights of people with disabilities. The latter two tasks were added this year. Despite these extensive additional tasks, the Chancellor’s Office has not significantly grown. Every day we try to think how to achieve optimal synergy between different departments and advisers, how to use our ‘tools’ swiftly and productively without wasting a minute on needless bureaucracy.

The Chancellor submits an opinion to the Supreme Court on all constitutional review cases and, if necessary, draws the attention of the Riigikogu, the Government, rural municipal councils and governments to opportunities for better developing the legal order in the spirit of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia.

If at all within our capacity, we help, making use of the shortest possible lawful avenue. We proceed from the principle that we resolve issues, do not just carry out formal proceedings, and a working day can only be considered a success when we have really been able to help someone, promote the rule of law and improve Estonia even just a little. It is possible to work like that in the Chancellor’s Office.

During the reporting year – from 1 September 2018 to 31 August 2019 – representatives from the Chancellor’s Office have everywhere met public officials who do their work just as one should: dedicated, understanding the responsibility for resolving the substance of people’s problems, and not being indifferent, cowardly and lazy bodies merely carrying out procedures. Disparaging generalisations that can be heard from time to time are not fair. The same applies to members of the Riigikogu and the Government: many of them work sincerely for the sake of Estonia’s well-being.

When assessing slip-ups by officials and politicians in their work, disapproval should be expressed against conscious abuses and failure to act arising primarily from laziness, fear and lack of conscience. However, where a mistake is due to miscalculation or misinformation, courage to rectify mistakes should be recognised instead of met with condemnation.

For example, not one good reason exists for Estonia after many years to suddenly deprive of citizenship people who have acted in good faith. If a citizen has not lied to the state then why suddenly turn their life upside down? The public learned of the concern of Estonians living in Abkhazia: what is the legal status of people who acquired Estonian citizenship on the basis of the Tartu Peace Treaty but did not return to Estonia in the 1920s. Previously, the descendants of these people were recognised as citizens by birth but later the state changed its position. This is a typical example of reducing a person to the level of a unit, a chip that is merely a natural result of cutting wood. However, it is always possible to find a solution that does not harm the individual.

People with disabilities, the elderly and children with behavioural problems are too often seen as a unit and not as valuable individuals. And not only they but also, for example, land and forest owners who have been waiting for years for a decision by the state or local authority on establishing a protected area without having the possibility to use their land and forest during the waiting period.

On several occasions we have heard that we might indeed help that person (i.e. comply with the law!) but then others will seek the same. Examples of such situations are a well with contaminated water in a forest farmstead or a lift in a house under heritage conservation or weighing the interests of the owners against those of the environmental protection and heritage conservation authorities when deciding on preservation of valuable dams so that a reasonable and just solution – and if necessary an exceptional one – may be found.

Public authorities must, indeed, comply with the law. If a new well or lift is needed and no laws are violated when building it then a person should be able to have it. If in that process different interests need to be honestly weighed, then, for example, the environmental protection and heritage conservation authorities must indeed find the best compromise in each situation – and so that the obligations fall not only on the owner. It is probably also true that as long as the wages of officials in direct contact with the people are very low in comparison to people in ministries, on top of which they are rarely recognised, it is difficult to find workers of the right quality, and officials are overburdened.

Improving the organisation of work and better wages are actually indispensable at the ‘front line’, i.e. where the individual meets the state, where it is ascertained whether a protected species is present on a plot of land or whether fertiliser has contaminated a well. It is indeed bizarre if one official requires a developer to do one thing while another requires something different and then they keep arguing with each other, specifically at the expense of the developer and more generally at the expense of the taxpayer. The state should know what it requires. If merging government agencies and state-owned foundations helps to upgrade work and pay better remuneration at the ‘front line’, then state reform can be considered a success.

Unfortunately, during the reporting year we saw a number of Kafkaesque situations where the state or local authority issued people with conflicting demands and harmful recommendations.

As a result of several weeks of effort, a person with complete lack of physical mobility function managed to get their blocked ID card functioning again. We tried to offer discreet advice to officials on how to avoid such situations in the future. We are very happy in such situations to be able to contribute to a better future. We will try to maintain this line in the future – often it is not just a single case which is at issue but a pattern of activity predicts new mistakes that will go uncorrected while causing mistrust and resentment among the public.

This year we heard people again and again claiming that it makes no sense to protect one’s rights in line with the procedure laid down and it is better to come directly to the Chancellor of Justice or go on television. This frame of mind is increasingly in evidence.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that a law that looks good on paper does not work in real life because of a shortage of specialists or money, or both. For example, the Preschool Childcare Institutions Act provides that “if necessary", the support services of a speech therapist, special education teacher or other support service shall be ensured to a child, and the possibilities for the application of support services shall be created by the manager of a preschool institution and the application thereof shall be organised by the director.

In real life, this often means that a parent themselves must find a support specialist or otherwise the child will be in an endless queue waiting for a specialist extremely important for its development. Seemingly, the decision-makers have done their job; the law does lay down the entitlement! However, the simple and under-paid people on the front line, i.e. a kindergarten teacher, a school teacher or a local authority social worker, must alleviate the anger of a parent and, in the worst case, also stand in the pillory erected by journalists.

This situation is not fair, let alone pleasant to see. Children go without assistance, the parents are concerned, and no solution seems in sight. Or perhaps a solution could still be found if rule-makers also understood that putting someone in a queue or suggesting that they seek out a specialist is not the same as providing assistance.

Language use also poses an impediment to seeing everyone as a valuable human being: speaking about a “client” and a “service” inevitably makes it easier to shrug one’s shoulders indifferently. “The client did not receive the service.” If one had to speak in plain terms − for example that a mother and her child in need were left in difficulty − it would probably be more difficult to ‘process’ people out of the door.

If another person’s life, peace of mind and future are in your hands, then you have a very personal responsibility. People’s limited legal awareness and poor access to sound legal advice is everywhere in evidence. This causes annoyance, in particular in cases concerning collection of debts and contact by divorced parents with their joint children. Professional intermediation in agreements supporting the development of their children into good people is an indispensable need.

After several years, we can see the re-emergence of a mentality suited to a totalitarian society, according to which it is actually a good thing if everyone can always be punished without the burden of proof, because those who need to be brought to justice will be brought to justice! Certainly, some transborder crimes − including money-laundering − require strict counter-measures, but at the end of the day this cannot justify disregard for the rule of law. Living in a panopticon perverts the mind and untrammelled absolute power perverts the official. Therefore, we have stood against the reversed burden of proof in banking, against almost unlimited and uncontrolled background checks by the prison service, and against a plan to sell the health data of the Estonian people abroad.

Let us recognise all those who speak honestly and whose actions match their words. And, accordingly, let us condemn those who, in the name of a petty personal victory, acquiesce in wickedness, vexation, laziness, lies, distortion of the truth, and taking advantage of people. Every political decision affects the life of many people. A failed law that unfairly deprives someone of benefit or sends someone a wrong land tax notice also robs many people of their peace of mind.

The tools entrusted by law to the Chancellor of Justice are optimal for resolving many of the people’s concerns. If a person is caught in the cogwheels of the state machinery because of an unconstitutional law or regulation, then we will contest it. This person does not need a lawyer and need not burden the court: for us it is sufficient that they describe their concern, then we will establish the important legal facts and, if necessary, will eventually take the matter right up to the Supreme Court. Often, an unconstitutional rule is the result of an error and will be put right at the first opportunity; constitutionality is restored without a long wait and free of charge to the individual.

If the source of someone’s problem is not an unconstitutional rule but a mistake by officials, we will try swiftly and, if possible, discreetly, to direct them to correct the mistake. Sometimes a letter or a phone call to an official who has failed to resolve a matter is sufficient. As always, the Office of the Chancellor of Justice also receives cases where we are unable to help. The Constitution does not allow the Chancellor to rewrite or criticise court judgments, nor is it within our capacity to help people arrange a doctor’s appointment, and we cannot resolve debt disputes with a bank or a bailiff, let alone a family quarrel or a row between neighbours. Even though it is not directly our task, we nevertheless try to tell individuals how they can protect their rights in these cases.

You can keep yourself informed of the daily work of the Chancellor’s Office through the Chancellor of Justice website. I also post summaries on Facebook of selected debates I personally consider important and interesting.

Ülle Madise
Chancellor of Justice of the Republic of Estonia

Memorandums, proposals

During the reporting period, i.e. from 1 September 2018 to 31 August 2019, the Chancellor’s Office received a total of 3782 petitions (3525 a year earlier). Of these almost four thousand letters, 2302 required a substantive solution.

Naturally, the work involved in resolving petitions is diverse. Some petitions, after months of analysis and correspondence, grow into an application to the Supreme Court, where the resolution may lead to changing the principles for providing social assistance and the funding of those services. Sometimes, a United Nations policy document a couple of dozen pages long needs to be analysed in just a few days in order to ascertain its possible impact on Estonian law. In yet another letter, a parent expresses concern whether their child has been treated fairly at a music school. All these issues are important.

The previous reporting year, for example, included the following cases:

  • Application to the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional and repeal unconstitutional provisions in the social services regulations in Narva city. By the end of the reporting year, the Supreme Court had not yet announced its judgment.
  • Proposal to the Riigikogu to bring into line with the Constitution the Code of Misdemeanour Procedure, which does not enable persons having suffered harm as a result of a misdemeanour to access information collected in the course of misdemeanour proceedings and to protect their rights by relying on that information. The Riigikogu supported the Chancellor’s proposal to amend the Code of Misdemeanour Procedure at a sitting on 11 June 2019 by 80 votes in favour. The Riigikogu Legal Affairs Committee was tasked with initiating a Draft Act.
  • Memorandum to the Riigikogu Constitutional Committee with a proposal to amend the laws so as to be better able to combat and prevent corruption in local government bodies. On 23 January 2019, the Riigikogu adopted Act (574 SE) amending the Local Government Organisation Act and other related Acts. This legalised some of the proposals by the Chancellor of Justice, the most important of these being the idea to empower the prosecutor’s office to claim pecuniary damage caused by a criminal offence from a person convicted of corruption if the local authority itself does not file a claim to that effect against the criminal.
  • Written report to the Riigikogu on legislative amendments needed to ensure fair political competition.
  • Proposal to Tallinn City Council to annul building regulations of Astangu, Pelgulinn and Nõmme city districts and a memorandum in which the Chancellor asked the Government and the Council of Haapsalu Town to bring the town’s building regulations into line with the law. The municipal councils of both Tallinn and Haapsalu complied with the Chancellor’s recommendation and brought the building regulations into line with the law.
  • Proposals to local authorities to bring diverse regulations and procedures into line with the Constitution and the law. For example, the procedure laid down in Tartu city on provision of social services to children with disabilities; a regulation on the procedure for exclusion from a kindergarten adopted in Jõgeva rural municipality; waste management regulations of Türi rural municipality; a Viimsi rural municipality regulation on keeping pets; a Loksa town regulation on connecting to the public water supply and sewerage system; and so forth.
  • Opinions to the Supreme Court in all constitutional review cases.

Meetings with Riigikogu factions

In May 2019, the Chancellor met with the factions of all five political parties elected to the Riigikogu.

Meetings with members of parliament serve three aims. The Chancellor introduces members of the Riigikogu to her most recent opinions and the tools at her disposal in exercising constitutional review. Then the Chancellor listens to comments and observations by the members of the Riigikogu on the Chancellor’s activities. In addition, members of parliament make proposals on topics and areas which they believe the Chancellor should deal with in the future.

In view of the timing of the meetings and the background to events – the new composition of the Riigikogu had just convened, the new Government with their action plan had assumed office – the discussion in May focused mainly on opinions that had been heard in debates during the election campaign and the plans of the new Government.

Arising from her status and her oath of office, the Chancellor of Justice is not a politician, which means that she does not participate in current political debates nor does she express opinions on promises of a political nature. The Chancellor’s work in the Riigikogu mostly concerns the constitutionality of draft legislation and the quality of law-making in general.

The Chancellor gave members of the Riigikogu an overview of progress in fulfilling the new tasks imposed on her by amendments to the Chancellor of Justice Act entering into force on 1 January 2019: the Chancellor now also fulfils the tasks of the national human rights institution and the supervisory institution of the Convention on Persons with Disabilities.

The meetings also dealt with the problem of citizenship of Estonians living in Abkhazia, as well as distribution of tasks and resources between the state and local authorities, issues related to enforcement procedure, and problems of social welfare.

International cooperation

Since 2001, the Estonian Chancellor of Justice has been a member of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI). The Institute was established in 1978 and includes over 190 national and regional ombudsmen from over a hundred countries worldwide. The IOI operates in six regions – Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Pacific, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America, and North America – and is governed through worldwide and regional Boards. 

The Chancellor of Justice, Ülle Madise, was elected to the seven-member Board of the IOI European region on 30 September 2015 and was re-elected on 27 July 2016. Since November 2017, Ülle Madise has also been a member of the IOI Worldwide Board. Her mandate on the Board lasts until 2020.

The Chancellor of Justice also represents Estonia on the Council of Europe Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). The head of the International Relations and Organisational Development of the Chancellor’s Office, Kertti Pilvik, participates as Estonian representative in the work of the Management Board of the European Union Agency of Fundamental Rights (FRA). 

As of 2019, the Chancellor of Justice is also a member of the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI). She also represents the Republic of Estonia in the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC) and the networks of European Ombudsmen (ENO), the International Conference of Ombuds Institutions for the Armed Forces (ICOAF), police ombudsmen (IPCAN), and National Preventive Mechanisms (NPM).

The Chancellor’s foreign guests in 2018-2019

18 October 2018 – Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman Thomas Norling with officials

9 November 2018 – Minister of Justice of Kazakhstan with delegation

14 November 2018 – advisers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

26 November 2018 – Political-Economic Officer of the United States Embassy, Brian Timm-Brock

3–4 December 2018 – delegation from the Albanian Ombudsman for Children

10 December 2018 – Ambassador of Serbia H. E. Saša Obradović

11 April 2019 – delegation of the Dutch Academy for Government Lawyers

14 May 2019 – doctoral student Renáta Kálmán from the Law Faculty of the University of Szeged in Hungary

30 May 2019 – delegation of Armenian government officials and non-profit-making associations

13 June 2019 – student Caleb Owens from the University of Delaware in the U.S.A.

13 June 2019 – delegation from the legal and internal affairs committee of the State Parliament of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

9 July 2019 – delegation of senior police officers from Turkey

23 August 2019 – Director of the Finnish Human Rights Centre, Sirpa Rautio




Power talks

At the end of 2015, the Chancellor of Justice initiated an academic lecture series, entitled „Võim“ [Power], aiming to analyse power in all its possible manifestations. Apart from officials from the Chancellor’s Office, the Chancellor’s closest cooperation partners from the Riigikogu, agencies exercising public authority, as well as the private sector and NGOs, are invited to attend the lectures.

Lectures held from September 2018 to May 2019:

  • Tarmo Soomere „Kliima võim. Mis paneb rahvad rändama?“ [The power of climate. What makes peoples migrate?], 18 September 2018
  • Rainer Saks „Luure võim ja selle muutused ajas“ [The power of collecting intelligence and its changes over time], 9 October 2018
  • Krista Kaer „Kas lugemine loeb?“ [Does reading count?], 13 November 2018
  • Margus Laidre „Venemaa võim ja vaim Euroopa kohal“ [The power and spirit of Russia over Europe], 18 December 2018
  • Tõnu Lehtsaar „Talupojatarkus“ [Common sense], 15 January 2019
  • David Vseviov „Nõukogude kunsti roll oleviku kujutaja ja kujundajana“ [The role of Soviet culture in depicting and shaping the present], 26 February 2019
  • Margus Punab „Mehe võim ja vägi“ [The power and might of man], 19 March 2019
  • Mart Noorma „Tapjarobotite võim“ [The power of killer robots], 23 April 2019
  • Mihhail Lotman „Süvariik“ [Deep state], 28 May 2019