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2020.03.09 16:45

Judges' immunities are too wide and may be unconstitutional, Lithuania's top court rules

BNS2020.03.09 16:45

Immunities accorded to Lithuanian judges by the law are too extensive and may be unconstitutional, the country's Constitutional Court ruled on Monday.

The ruling comes after the country's Supreme Court said that investigators must seek parliamentary permission before conducting searches in judges' homes or offices.

Read more: Investigators decry Lithuania's Supreme Court ruling that may ‘negatively affect fight against corruption’

“Judicial immunity exists not to create conditions for judges to avoid responsibility for criminal acts,” Dainius Žalimas, the president of the Constitutional Court, said on Monday.

The Constitutional Court believes that legal immunity in its scope is the same for judges, Constitutional Court justices and parliament members, and the Constitution only guarantees protection from measures that restrict a person's freedom.

“When a person needs to be subjected to criminal liability or be named a suspect, an approval from the parliament or the president [...] is necessary. Also, when a person needs to be detained or have their freedom restricted in other ways,” Žalimas explained.

Last December, the parliament asked the Constitutional Court to give a ruling after the Supreme Court court said that judges could only be subjected to searches with an approval from the parliament or, if it is between sessions, the president.

The Supreme Court based its ruling on the Constitution, which bans restricting a judge's freedom without the parliament's consent, and the Law on Courts, which details a ban on searches involving judges.

However, searches do not necessarily amount to restrictions of freedom, according to the Constitutional Court.

“If procedural measures, like searches, seizures etc. are only aimed at collecting evidence […], they are not considered a freedom-restricting measure on their own. They do not need the parliament's or the president's approval,” Žalimas said, adding that if it were otherwise, investigating judges would be impossible.

The Court ruled on Monday that “the ruling of the Supreme Court of Lithuania of November 25, 2019, should not be deemed a judicial precedent as much as it is based on the clarification of Part 2 of Article 47 of the Law on Courts, deemed by this ruling of the Constitutional Court as being in conflict with the Constitution”.

In their appeal to the Constitutional Court, the lawmakers say such restrictions on searches involving judges should be viewed as an undue privilege that impedes crime investigations.

The disputed law now bans entering a judge's residence or office, carrying out inspections or searches there; searching or seizing a judge's car, personal belongings and documents.