Latvia

   

Quality of Democracy

#11
Key Findings
With generally fair electoral procedures, Latvia scores well overall (rank 11) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Parties receive public and private funding. Campaign spending is capped, with infringements sanctioned. Concerns include off-book expenditures and payments made to influence media reporting. Leaked transcripts have revealed outside political influence at major print- and broadcast-media organizations. Local newspapers are feeling increasing competitive pressure from government-owned publications.

Civil rights are generally protected, but some concerns over prison conditions have emerged. The parliament has not ratified the Istanbul Convention, hindering the state’s ability to address domestic violence. A rule requiring “loyalty” from public-school teachers has been controversial. A whistleblower-protection law was passed in 2018

Courts are independent but overloaded, with access regulated through the imposition of fees and security deposits. International groups have questioned the predictability of legal outcomes. Corruption remains an occasional problem. A new director may help restore public trust in the conflict-torn anti-corruption body.

Electoral Processes

#15

How fair are procedures for registering candidates and parties?

10
 9

Legal regulations provide for a fair registration procedure for all elections; candidates and parties are not discriminated against.
 8
 7
 6


A few restrictions on election procedures discriminate against a small number of candidates and parties.
 5
 4
 3


Some unreasonable restrictions on election procedures exist that discriminate against many candidates and parties.
 2
 1

Discriminating registration procedures for elections are widespread and prevent a large number of potential candidates or parties from participating.
Candidacy Procedures
9
Candidacy procedures provide everyone with an equal opportunity to be an election candidate. Some restrictions, related to Latvia’s Soviet past, are in place.

While political parties are the only organizations with the right to submit candidate lists for parliamentary elections, multiparty electoral coalitions have not been abolished and are indeed the rule. At the local government level, this party-list restriction applies to all large municipalities. However, candidates in small municipalities (less than 5,000 residents) have the right to form voters’ associations and submit nonpartisan lists. The restriction to partisan lists has been deemed limiting by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).


Registration as a political party is open to any group with at least 200 founding members. In 2016, a new threshold was set, which requires political parties to have at least 500 members before standing in national parliamentary elections.

The Central Election Commission (Centrālā Vēlēšanu Komisija, CVK) oversees the organization of elections. International observers have consistently recognized Latvia’s elections as free and fair. For example, the 2018 ODIHR REPORT expressed full confidence and trust in the professionalism and impartiality of election administration at all levels.

Citations:
1. The Saeima Election Law, Article 5 and 6, Available at: https://www.cvk.lv/pub/public/30870.html, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

2. OSCE: Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (2018), ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission Report, Available at: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/latvia/387665?download=true, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

3. Valts Kalniņš (2011), Assessment of National Integrity System, p.99, Published by DELNA, Available at: https://www.transparency.org/files/content/pressrelease/20120309_Latvia_NIS_EN.pdf, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

4. Ivars Ijabs (2018), 2018 Parliamentary Elections in Latvia, Available at: http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/baltikum/14739.pdf, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

To what extent do candidates and parties have fair access to the media and other means of communication?

10
 9

All candidates and parties have equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. All major media outlets provide a fair and balanced coverage of the range of different political positions.
 8
 7
 6


Candidates and parties have largely equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. The major media outlets provide a fair and balanced coverage of different political positions.
 5
 4
 3


Candidates and parties often do not have equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. While the major media outlets represent a partisan political bias, the media system as a whole provides fair coverage of different political positions.
 2
 1

Candidates and parties lack equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communications. The major media outlets are biased in favor of certain political groups or views and discriminate against others.
Media Access
7
Electoral candidates and every political party have equal access to the media. Publicly financed election broadcasts on public and private television are equally available to all, although debates between political party leaders before elections often feature only those parties polling around and above the 5% threshold in the polls.

The national media system as a whole provides fair and balanced coverage. Individually, however, media outlets do not consistently provide fair and balanced coverage of the range of different political positions. Local newspapers and electronic media in Latvia’s rural regions are often dependent on advertising and other support from the local authorities, sometimes leading to unbalanced coverage favoring incumbents. Local government-owned print media is pushing independent local media out of the market, leaving only local government-owned outlets to function as a public relations arm for incumbents. Meanwhile, the opaque ownership structures of media outlets mean that support for political actors is often implied rather than clearly stated as an editorial position. Corrupt political journalism has been prevalent across a wide spectrum of the media. There are also marked imbalances in media coverage related to the different linguistic communities. For example, both Latvian and Russian-language media demonstrate a bias toward their linguistic audiences.

Citations:
1. Rožukalne, A. (2010), Research Paper on Hidden Advertising Issues in the Media, Available at (in Latvian): http://politika.lv/article_files/2117/original/slepta_reklama_mediju_prakse.pdf?1343212009, Last assessed: 20.05.2013

2. OSCE: Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (2018), ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission Report, Available at: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/latvia/387665?download=true, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

To what extent do all citizens have the opportunity to exercise their right of participation in national elections?

10
 9

All adult citizens can participate in national elections. All eligible voters are registered if they wish to be. There are no discriminations observable in the exercise of the right to vote. There are no disincentives to voting.
 8
 7
 6


The procedures for the registration of voters and voting are for the most part effective, impartial and nondiscriminatory. Citizens can appeal to courts if they feel being discriminated. Disincentives to voting generally do not constitute genuine obstacles.
 5
 4
 3


While the procedures for the registration of voters and voting are de jure non-discriminatory, isolated cases of discrimination occur in practice. For some citizens, disincentives to voting constitute significant obstacles.
 2
 1

The procedures for the registration of voters or voting have systemic discriminatory effects. De facto, a substantial number of adult citizens are excluded from national elections.
Voting and Registration Rights
8
All adult citizens over 18 years of age have voting rights in national elections. Resident EU citizens can vote in local and European elections, and all have access to an effective, impartial and non-discriminatory procedure for voting. Procedures are in place for ensuring that incarcerated persons are able to cast ballots. Non-resident citizens have voting access via polling stations in Latvian diplomatic entities and polling stations abroad as well as through an absentee-ballot postal procedure.

Latvia has a significant population of non-citizens (11.07% of the total population in 2018) who, while allowed to join political parties, cannot participate in any elections.

Voting procedures for non-resident citizens can in practice present obstacles. For example, the number of Latvian diplomatic representations is limited, which can mean that non-resident citizens have to travel long distances, at significant expense, to vote. Furthermore, to vote by post non-resident citizens are required to submit their passport, which can be held for three weeks.

Election observers in the 2018 parliamentary elections found no major faults with voting rights and access.

At the local-government level, voting rights and procedures are similar. Voters may vote in local-government elections on the basis of their residence or according to property ownership. Voters have designated polling stations but can switch to a more convenient polling station if desired. For individuals unable to be present at polling stations on election day, polling stations are open for early voting in the days prior to the election. Currently, no provision is made for non-resident citizen participation in local-government elections.

Citations:
1. Central Election Commission, Voting from abroad, Available at: https://www.cvk.lv/pub/public/32011.html, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

2. OSCE: Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (2018), ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission Report, Available at: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/latvia/387665?download=true, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

3. Central Statistics Bureau (2018). Population of Latvia by citizenship. Available at: http://data.csb.gov.lv/pxweb/lv/iedz/iedz__iedzrakst/IRG110.px/?rxid=b48d2c41-f8ee-4428-a82a-271ec283d412. Last accessed 04.01.2019

To what extent is private and public party financing and electoral campaign financing transparent, effectively monitored and in case of infringement of rules subject to proportionate and dissuasive sanction?

10
 9

The state enforces that donations to political parties are made public and provides for independent monitoring to that respect. Effective measures to prevent evasion are effectively in place and infringements subject to effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions.
 8
 7
 6


The state enforces that donations to political parties are made public and provides for independent monitoring. Although infringements are subject to proportionate sanctions, some, although few, loopholes and options for circumvention still exist.
 5
 4
 3


The state provides that donations to political parties shall be published. Party financing is subject to some degree of independent monitoring but monitoring either proves regularly ineffective or proportionate sanctions in case of infringement do not follow.
 2
 1

The rules for party and campaign financing do not effectively enforce the obligation to make the donations public. Party and campaign financing is neither monitored independently nor, in case of infringements, subject to proportionate sanctions.
Party Financing
7
Political parties are financed primarily through individual donations and public financing, but can also be financed by membership fees and income earned through parties’ economic activities, according to certain set limits. Public financing is also provided to all parties who gained 2% of the vote in the last parliamentary elections. Donation amounts are capped, while legal entities (e.g., corporations), and anonymous and foreign donors are prohibited from financing political parties. Parties are also not allowed to take or issue loans. Candidates are permitted to donate to their own campaign, but according to the limits established for donations from individual persons. All donations must be made through bank transfers, expect for cash donations of less than €430.

Financing is transparent, with donations required to be publicly listed online within 15 days. Campaign spending is capped. As of 2012, paid television advertisements are also limited, with a ban on advertising for a 30-day period prior to elections. Political party and campaign financing is effectively monitored by the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (Korupcijas novēršanas un apkarošanas birojs, KNAB), with local NGOs playing a complementary role in monitoring and ensuring transparency. Infringements have been sanctioned, with political parties facing sizable financial penalties. The court system has been slow to deal with party-financing violations, enabling parties that have violated campaign-finance rules to participate in subsequent election cycles without sanction. Ultimately, however, those parties that have faced stiff penalties have been dissolved or voted out of office. Following the 2014 parliamentary elections, KNAB sanctioned six parties for campaign-finance violations. Five parties paid the requisite fines, but one party appealed the decision to the courts.

In fulfilling the recommendations of the Group of States Against Corruption on improving political-party finance regulations, the limitation period for administrative violations of party-financing rules was increased to two years in 2012. In 2011, the illegal financing of political parties was made a criminal offense. To date, no cases have been brought under this new regulation.

Beginning in 2012, Latvia instituted public financing for political parties, with parties receiving public funds proportional to their share of the vote in the preceding parliamentary elections. Political parties have been sanctioned by KNAB for the misuse of public funds. In 2016, KNAB fined two parties – Vienotība and Saskaņas Centrs – for party financing violations. The parties had to repay €3,000 and €4,840 respectively, which were obtained from illicit sources. Later, KNAB completely withdrew public funding for Vienotība due to campaign finance violations. KNAB investigations into illegal financing are ongoing, with two cases currently pending.

There are still other ongoing issues with campaign financing, including the use of off-the-books funds to secure favorable media coverage, the illegitimate use of public funds and administrative resources to support political campaigns, and the alleged use of marketing funds by local-government-owned enterprises to support incumbent politicians’ election campaigns.

Despite noting some gaps in existing provisions, ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission interlocutors expressed confidence in the party and campaign finance rules, including the oversight role of the KNAB, The GRECO report of 2014 concluded that Latvia had implemented satisfactorily GRECO’s previous recommendations.

Citations:
1. Amendments to the Criminal Law Regarding Illegal Party Financing (2011), Available at (in Latvian): http://www.likumi.lv/doc.php?id=236272

2. Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO)(2012), Third Evaluation Round, Second Compliance Report on
Latvia: Transparency of Party Funding, Available at: www.legislationline.org/documents/id/18945, Last assessed: 04.01.2019 and
Addendum to the Second Compliance Report on Latvia (GRECO 2014), Available at: https://rm.coe.int/16806c6d33, Last assessed on 04.01.2019

3. Law on the Financing of Political Organizations (Parties), Available at (in Latvian): http://www.likumi.lv/doc.php?id=36189, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

4. “Overview of Violations of Campaign Finance Regulations in the 2014 Saeima elections,” KNAB (published in Latvian). Available at: https://www.knab.gov.lv/upload/free/parskati/12.saeimas_finansu_parbaudes_1.07.2015.pdf, last assessed: 04.01.2019

5. OSCE: Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (2018), ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission Report, Available at: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/latvia/387665?download=true, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

6. The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (2017), General report 2017, Available at: https://www.knab.gov.lv/upload/2018/knab_01022018_zinojums_2017rezultati.docx, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

Do citizens have the opportunity to take binding political decisions when they want to do so?

10
 9

Citizens have the effective opportunity to actively propose and take binding decisions on issues of importance to them through popular initiatives and referendums. The set of eligible issues is extensive, and includes national, regional, and local issues.
 8
 7
 6


Citizens have the effective opportunity to take binding decisions on issues of importance to them through either popular initiatives or referendums. The set of eligible issues covers at least two levels of government.
 5
 4
 3


Citizens have the effective opportunity to vote on issues of importance to them through a legally binding measure. The set of eligible issues is limited to one level of government.
 2
 1

Citizens have no effective opportunity to vote on issues of importance to them through a legally binding measure.
Popular Decision-Making
8
Citizens have the legal right to propose and make binding decisions at the national level. The constitution makes provision both for popular initiatives and referendums. However, no instruments exist at the local level to support popular decision-making.

In 2011, following the president’s invocation of the constitutional procedure for dissolution of parliament, his decision was voted upon in a referendum. Under this procedure, the parliament is dissolved if the act receives voters’ approval, but the president resigns if the act does not receive voters’ approval. In 2011, voters approved the dissolution of parliament and extraordinary elections were held in October 2011. This constitutional procedure had never before been used.

In addition to referendums, the parliament approved a new political decision-making instrument in 2010 that allows citizens to put items on the parliamentary agenda, though it does not afford citizens the right to make binding decisions. Thus, parliamentary procedure now allows for petitions that have gathered 10,000 signatures to move to the parliament for consideration. Under this new instrument, 38 proposals have been forwarded to parliament since 2011, 26 of which were successful. In 2018 alone, 13 proposals were forwarded to parliament.

In 2012, changes were made to the legislation regulating referendums that required petitions to receive 30,000 initial signatures before triggering a referendum, followed by CVK engagement to gather further signatures totaling one-tenth of the electorate. As of 1 January 2015, a one-step procedure took force that eliminated CVK engagement in the signature-gathering phase, placing the responsibility for gathering the signatures of one-tenth of the electorate with the referendum initiators. These changes were adopted with the presumption that there would be an opportunity to gather signatures electronically; however, no simple, user-friendly mechanisms for electronic signature-gathering have yet been put into place. The new requirements are thus prohibitive for any new referendums.

Over the last 10 years, parliament has periodically considered introducing popular initiatives and referendums into the decision-making process at the local government level, but these proposals have never been enacted.

Citations:
1. Collection of Signatures for Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, Report, Available at: http://www.cvk.lv/pub/public/29952.html, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

2. About the Voters’ Initiated Draft Law “Amendments to the Citizenship Law,” Report, Available at: https://www.cvk.lv/pub/public/30436.html, Last Assessed: 04.01.2019

3. Social Initiative Platform ManaBalss.lv, List of Signed Initiatives, Available at (in Latvian): https://manabalss.lv/page/progress, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

Access to Information

#11

To what extent are the media independent from government?

10
 9

Public and private media are independent from government influence; their independence is institutionally protected and fully respected by the incumbent government.
 8
 7
 6


The incumbent government largely respects the independence of media. However, there are occasional attempts to exert influence.
 5
 4
 3


The incumbent government seeks to ensure its political objectives indirectly by influencing the personnel policies, organizational framework or financial resources of public media, and/or the licensing regime/market access for private media.
 2
 1

Major media outlets are frequently influenced by the incumbent government promoting its partisan political objectives. To ensure pro-government media reporting, governmental actors exert direct political pressure and violate existing rules of media regulation or change them to benefit their interests.
Media Freedom
6
Private media are generally free from direct government influence. Licensing and regulatory regimes are politically neutral and do not create a risk of inappropriate political interference. However, the opaque ownership structure of private media and the media working environment does enable actors associated with government to have an influence over editorial decisions. Research shows that media editors agree with the opinion that editorial policy is biased, because of the commercial interests of owners or prominent clients, or for political reasons. In 2011, a leaked chain of e-mails between the mayor of Riga and a Russian-language broadcaster showed the mayor to be engaged in daily editorial decisions affecting the news desk. In 2017, leaked transcripts of conversations between Latvia’s three “oligarchs” document political influence in the major daily newspaper “Diena” and in public television. These conversations observed that public radio remains impervious to outside political influence.

Public broadcasting has been subject to political influence. The oversight body, the National Broadcasting Council (Nacionālā elektronisko plašsaziņas līdzekļu padome, NEPLP), is politically appointed, and this has had an impact on personnel choices and in some cases content. In 2015, the parliament dismissed the chairperson of the NEPLP. This unprecedented move was considered by some to violate the measures built into the Law on Public Broadcasting meant to safeguard the independence of the public-broadcasting system. The parliamentary decision was successfully challenged in the courts and the dismissed council member was reinstated. However, he is no longer chairperson of the council. In 2017, the Supreme Court rejected his appeal. Since then, a new council has been appointed. This new council has been criticized for violating the independence of public broadcasting after making swift, poorly substantiated changes in the leadership of public radio.

Independent local print media is under increasing competitive pressures from local government-owned media outlets. The latter not only offer a low, subsidized purchase price to readers, but also a low advertising rate, pulling advertising revenue away from independent publications. A local independent media outlet has successfully contested in the courts the legitimacy of local government-owned publications taking paid advertisements.

Two general trends seem obvious. First, 2017 saw Latvia’s media outlets compete for €480,000 in government funding aimed at promoting quality journalism. As the income of media outlets continues to fall, even private media will be ever more reliant on government funding. Second, Latvia’s print media is in a downward spiral of falling readership and income. There were only six national newspapers in 2017, compared to fifteen 20 years ago. At the same time, the numbers of people reading only online media (such as Delfi) is rising and this will shake-up Latvia’s media market.

Finally, Reporters without Borders highlighted that Latvia ranked 24 in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. Latvia’s score has continued to worsen due to the spread of “fake news” from suspected Russian origins. Other problems for the media include economic difficulties, inadequate and poorly distributed state aid, lawsuits brought against several journalists, and legislation that does not favor the media or media sources.

Citations:
1. Rožukalne, A. (2010), Research Paper on Hidden Advertising Issues in the Media, Available at (in Latvian): http://politika.lv/article_files/2117/original/slepta_reklama_mediju_prakse.pdf?1343212009, Last assessed: 04.01.2019.

2. RSF (2018), World Press Freedom Index, Available at: https://rsf.org/en/ranking, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

To what extent are the media characterized by an ownership structure that ensures a pluralism of opinions?

10
 9

Diversified ownership structures characterize both the electronic and print media market, providing a well-balanced pluralism of opinions. Effective anti-monopoly policies and impartial, open public media guarantee a pluralism of opinions.
 8
 7
 6


Diversified ownership structures prevail in the electronic and print media market. Public media compensate for deficiencies or biases in private media reporting by representing a wider range of opinions.
 5
 4
 3


Oligopolistic ownership structures characterize either the electronic or the print media market. Important opinions are represented but there are no or only weak institutional guarantees against the predominance of certain opinions.
 2
 1

Oligopolistic ownership structures characterize both the electronic and the print media market. Few companies dominate the media, most programs are biased, and there is evidence that certain opinions are not published or are marginalized.
Media Pluralism
7
Media ownership is diverse. Print media is privately owned, while broadcast media has a mix of public and private ownership. Market pressures have created some consolidation in the market, leading to concerns about pluralism. In 2012, the Modern Times Group sought to expand its TV holdings in Latvia by buying a competitor, LNT. The merger was reviewed by the Competition Council, which allowed it under a set of conditions to protect media plurality, including a requirement to retain two separate news desks and news-programming systems until 2017.

Newspapers and magazines provide a diverse range of views, but ownership structures are in some cases opaque. Internet news portals (Delfi and TVNet) have replaced print newspapers as the primary source of news.

Despite the fact that the regulation of Latvia’s media is liberal and has allowed a diverse media system to develop, Latvia was evaluated as a showing medium risk of media pluralism under the Media Pluralism Monitor in 2017. This was due to issues such as media ownership transparency, media communication on the regional level and media access to people with disabilities.

Citations:
1. Competition Council (2012), On the Merger of Market Participants, Available at (in Latvian): http://www.kp.gov.lv/files/pdf/UNldnCrDP7.pdf, Last assessed: 17.05.2013.

2. European University Institute, Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (2017) Country report: Latvia, Available at: http://cmpf.eui.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Latvia_MPM2017_country-report.pdf, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

To what extent can citizens obtain official information?

10
 9

Legal regulations guarantee free and easy access to official information, contain few, reasonable restrictions, and there are effective mechanisms of appeal and oversight enabling citizens to access information.
 8
 7
 6


Access to official information is regulated by law. Most restrictions are justified, but access is sometimes complicated by bureaucratic procedures. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms permit citizens to enforce their right of access.
 5
 4
 3


Access to official information is partially regulated by law, but complicated by bureaucratic procedures and some poorly justified restrictions. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms are often ineffective.
 2
 1

Access to official information is not regulated by law; there are many restrictions of access, bureaucratic procedures and no or ineffective mechanisms of enforcement.
Access to Government Information
10
The constitution provides individuals with the right to address the government and receive a materially substantive reply. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), in place since 1998, creates the right to request information and receive a response within 15 days. No reason needs to be given for the request. Information is classified as generally accessible or restricted. Any restrictions on the provision of information must be substantively reasoned in accordance with specific legal guidelines. The FOIA is actively used by the press, NGOs and the academic community. Appeal procedures are in place, including both an administrative and court review. Government decisions to classify information as restricted have been challenged in the courts, with the courts generally upholding a broad standard of access to information.

Latvia has a number of regulations promoting transparency in the decision-making process, requiring the government to make documents available to the public proactively. Documents regarding draft policies and legislation are freely available online, and cabinet meetings are open to journalists and other observers. Regulations require that many documents be published online for accountability purposes. This includes political-party donations, public officials’ annual income- and financial-disclosure statements, national-budget expenditures, conflict-of-interest statements, and data on public officials disciplined for conflict-of-interest violations.


In addition, the parliament approved a new Law on Whistleblowing in 2018 (which will come into effect in 2019). The law will enable whistleblowers to expose offences that concern public interests or interests of certain social groups.

Citations:
1. Freedom of Information Act, Available at (in Latvian): http://www.likumi.lv/doc.php?id=50601, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

2. Saeima (2018), Saeima adopts Whistleblower Protection Law, Available at:
http://www.saeima.lv/en/news/saeima-news/27315-saeima-adopts-whistleblower-protection-law, Last assessed: 04.01.2019.

Civil Rights and Political Liberties

#12

To what extent does the state respect and protect civil rights and how effectively are citizens protected by courts against infringements of their rights?

10
 9

All state institutions respect and effectively protect civil rights. Citizens are effectively protected by courts against infringements of their rights. Infringements present an extreme exception.
 8
 7
 6


The state respects and protects rights, with few infringements. Courts provide protection.
 5
 4
 3


Despite formal protection, frequent infringements of civil rights occur and court protection often proves ineffective.
 2
 1

State institutions respect civil rights only formally, and civil rights are frequently violated. Court protection is not effective.
Civil Rights
8
Civil rights are generally respected and protected. In cases of infringement, courts provide protection. Individuals have equal access to and are accorded equal treatment by the courts. A significant court overload, however, creates difficulties in obtaining timely access to justice.

Despite improvements, there are concerns over poor conditions in the country’s prisons and detention facilities, lengthy pre-trial detention periods, and the general accessibility of the court system. The 2017 Ombudsman report rated the overall prison infrastructure as being out of date.

A number of cases have cast a spotlight on the state’s inability to prevent unjustifiable interventions into individuals’ personal lives. The unsanctioned publication of private e-mails, personal data, internet browsing histories and telephone transcripts have led some to question the efficacy of privacy protections, and even the state’s own ability to safeguard information. In 2015, an individual who downloaded data from the State Revenue Service and published a portion of that data in the public interest was prosecuted, found guilty and sentenced to community service, although he was pardoned by the president in December 2017. The published data, detailing the salaries of public servants, has since been categorized as openly accessible information. Nevertheless, the state pursued the individual for an unjustifiable violation of an individuals’ right to privacy, because his download of information pertained to private individuals, not public officials. The civil servants responsible for leaving vast amounts of personal data on an unprotected website have not been held accountable.

Citations:
1. Ombudsman of Latvia (2017), Annual Report, Available at: http://www.tiesibsargs.lv/uploads/content/legacy/2017_annual_report_summary_1523624612.pdf, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

2. Ombudsman of Latvia (2016), Annual Report, Available at: http://www.tiesibsargs.lv/uploads/content/lapas/tiesibsarga_2016_gada_zinojums_1 489647331.pdf, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

To what extent does the state concede and protect political liberties?

10
 9

All state institutions concede and effectively protect political liberties.
 8
 7
 6


All state institutions for the most part concede and protect political liberties. There are only few infringements.
 5
 4
 3


State institutions concede political liberties but infringements occur regularly in practice.
 2
 1

Political liberties are unsatisfactory codified and frequently violated.
Political Liberties
9
Political liberties are effectively protected and upheld. The right to speak, think, assemble, organize, worship, and petition without government interference or restraint is recognized and protected. However, new challenges to the freedoms of speech, assembly and organization are emerging. For example, freedom of assembly is regularly tested by organizations applying to the Riga city council for permits. In most instances, permits are granted without fail. Sensitive political issues, however, have led the city council to deny permits. There is a right of appeal to the courts and a rapid consideration schedule to ensure timely decisions. Between 2011 and 2013, all Riga city council decisions limiting the freedom of assembly that were appealed were overturned by the court.

In addition, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights noted that the Riga Higher Court’s 2017 order that the news portal TVNET should pay €50,000 to the Latvian National Opera and Ballet for reputational damage was disproportionate and raised concerns about the harmful effect of such a measure on the right to freedom of expression in the country. (TVNET had published an article criticizing the Latvian National Opera and Ballet for becoming a “public house of Putin’s court”).

Citations:
Commissioner for Human Rights (2017), Latvia: disproportionate defamation fine against Tvnet.lv can chill media freedom, Available at: https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/latvia-disproportionate-defamation-fine-against-tvnet-lv-can-chill-media-freedom, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

How effectively does the state protect against different forms of discrimination?

10
 9

State institutions effectively protect against and actively prevent discrimination. Cases of discrimination are extremely rare.
 8
 7
 6


State anti-discrimination protections are moderately successful. Few cases of discrimination are observed.
 5
 4
 3


State anti-discrimination efforts show limited success. Many cases of discrimination can be observed.
 2
 1

The state does not offer effective protection against discrimination. Discrimination is widespread in the public sector and in society.
Non-discrimination
7
In 2011, Latvia concluded its transposition of EU anti-discrimination directives. Anti-discrimination legal provisions are scattered among more than 30 pieces of legislation, with policy responsibilities dispersed among a significant number of state institutions. No single entity takes the lead in designing and implementing anti-discrimination policy. Individuals complaining of discrimination typically approach the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman has focused on labor-market discrimination on the basis of age, sex and sexual preference, cases of hate speech, and on issues of equal access to education and health services.

Due to Latvia’s ethnic makeup, discrimination based on ethnic origin is often cited in the media. The legal framework has been deemed non-discriminatory and official complaints are rare. However, public rhetoric on issues of citizenship, loyalty, language of instruction in education and use of language in public life can be inflammatory and be perceived as discriminatory. In 2016, new legislation was passed requiring “loyalty” from teachers in the public-school system, creating concerns over how this “loyalty” measure will be implemented.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is poorly regulated. It is only mentioned in the context of Labor Law. The Ombudsman’s efforts to draw public attention to the issue of same-sex partnerships have been fraught with controversy due to intense polarization of views within Latvian society.


In addition, a new law was introduced in 2017, which restricts a person’s right to cover their face. The law was developed by the Ministry of Justice.

Furthermore, although Latvia signed the Istanbul Convention in 2016 and has implemented most of its recommendations, the parliament still has not ratified it. This further hinders the state’s ability to address the issue of domestic violence in Latvia. The most recent available data (2014) indicates that 32% of women aged 15 and over in Latvia have faced physical and/or sexual violence.

According to the European network of legal experts on gender equality and non-discrimination, gender equality laws in Latvia generally do not significantly exceed the European Union’s minimum requirements – no positive measures have been taken to date.

Citations:
1. European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination, Country Report: Non-discrimination 2018, Available at: https://www.equalitylaw.eu/downloads/4754-latvia-country-report-non-discrimination-2018-pdf-2-05-mb, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

2. European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination, Country report: Gender equality 2018, Available at: https://www.equalitylaw.eu/downloads/4765-latvia-country-report-gender-equality-2018-pfd-1-58-mb, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

3. UN (2018) Global Database on Violence Against Women, Available at: http://evaw-global-database.unwomen.org/fr/countries/europe/latvia#1, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

4. European Network of Legal Experts in the Non-discrimination Field (2011), Report on Measures to Combat Discrimination, Available at: https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/54734a3a4.pdf, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

5. Latvian Centre for Human Rights (2011), Anti-discrimination in Latvia: From Legislation to Judicial Practice, Available at (in Latvian): http://cilvektiesibas.org.lv/site/attachments/29/01/2012/Diskriminacijas_noversa na_Latvija_II_Screen.pdf , Last assessed: 21.05.2013.

6. Ombudsman of Latvia (2017), Annual Report, Available at: http://www.tiesibsargs.lv/uploads/content/legacy/2017_annual_report_summary_1523 624612.pdf , Last assessed: 04.01.2019

7. Ombudsman of Latvia (2012), Report on the Conference Regarding Progress Evaluation of 2012, Available at (in Latvian): http://www.tiesibsargs.lv/files/2012._gada_konferences_materi%C4%81li/runa_j_jan sons_2012_tiesibsarga_konferences_preses_konference_12122012.pdf , Last assessed: 21.05.2013

8. University of Latvia, Social and Political Research Institute (2014). How Democratic is Latvia: Democracy Audit 2005 – 2014. Available at (in Latvian): http://www.szf.lu.lv/fileadmin/user_upload/szf_faili/Petnieciba/Demokratijas_aud its_2014_kopaa.pdf , Last assessed: 03.11.2014

Rule of Law

#10

To what extent do government and administration act on the basis of and in accordance with legal provisions to provide legal certainty?

10
 9

Government and administration act predictably, on the basis of and in accordance with legal provisions. Legal regulations are consistent and transparent, ensuring legal certainty.
 8
 7
 6


Government and administration rarely make unpredictable decisions. Legal regulations are consistent, but leave a large scope of discretion to the government or administration.
 5
 4
 3


Government and administration sometimes make unpredictable decisions that go beyond given legal bases or do not conform to existing legal regulations. Some legal regulations are inconsistent and contradictory.
 2
 1

Government and administration often make unpredictable decisions that lack a legal basis or ignore existing legal regulations. Legal regulations are inconsistent, full of loopholes and contradict each other.
Legal Certainty
9
Latvia’s government and administration generally act in a predictable manner. Government decisions have in some cases been challenged in court on the basis of a breach of the principle of legal certainty. For example, a group of Administrative Court judges approached the Constitutional Court to protest austerity measures targeting planned judicial-salary increases, arguing a breach of legal certainty. The Constitutional Court ruled against the judges in 2012.

Dissenting judges of the Constitutional Court published an opinion in 2014 indicating that the majority had erred in applying the principle of legal certainty during the financial crisis. They emphasized that legal certainty can be applied differently in different settings.

The Foreign Investors’ Council in their FICIL Sentiment Index 2015 noted two issues with legal certainty. First, the legal system delivers unpredictable results, which negatively affect the foreign investment climate in Latvia. Second, the legislative environment and tax regime has been inconsistent since the 2008 crisis, undermining investor confidence. In 2018, the FICIL Sentiment Index highlighted similar issues and emphasized issues of uncertainty in bureaucratic bodies.

Citations:
1. The Constitutional Court of Latvia (2012), On Termination of Proceedings, Rulings available at: http://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/en/press-release/the-constitutional-court-terminated-proceedings-in-the-case-on-judge-and-public-prosecutors-remuneration-reform/, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

2. FICIL Sentiment Index 2015 and 2018. Available at: https://www.sseriga.edu/centres/csb/sentiment-index, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

To what extent do independent courts control whether government and administration act in conformity with the law?

10
 9

Independent courts effectively review executive action and ensure that the government and administration act in conformity with the law.
 8
 7
 6


Independent courts usually manage to control whether the government and administration act in conformity with the law.
 5
 4
 3


Courts are independent, but often fail to ensure legal compliance.
 2
 1

Courts are biased for or against the incumbent government and lack effective control.
Judicial Review
8
Judicial oversight is provided by the administrative court and the Constitutional Court. The administrative court, created in 2004, reviews cases brought by individuals. The court is considered to be impartial; it pursues its own reasoning free from inappropriate influences.

However, the court system suffers from a considerable case overload, leading to substantial delays in proceedings. According to the court administration statistical overviews, in 2017, 51% of administrative cases in a first instance court conclude within 6 months, although 36% require up to a year. In the appellate courts, the situation is worse, as 46% of cases require 6 to 12 months, 20% 12 to 18 months and 13% even longer. Administrative court backlogs are being addressed by limiting access to the court system through increases in court fees and security deposits. A Ministry of Justice working group has been convened to propose other systemic improvements. Institutional reforms are underway in the administrative court, which would remove an administrative layer to improve efficiency.

The Constitutional Court reviews the constitutionality of laws and occasionally that of government or local government regulations. In 2017, the court received 390 petitions, of which 207 were forwarded for consideration. The court initiated 35 cases, dealing with a wide range of issues, including calculation of pensions, use of official language, provision of education, remuneration of judges and the solidarity tax.

Citations:
1. Judicial Information System Database, Available at: http://tis.ta.gov.lv/tisreal?FORM=TIS_STaT_O

2. The Constitutional Court Case Database, Available at: http://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/?lang=1&mid=19

3. Valts Kalniņšš (2011), Assessment of National Integrity System, p.99, Published by DELNA, Available at: http://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/pub/national_integrity_system_assessment_latvia, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

4. Constitutional Court (2018). Overview of the work of the Constitutional Court 2017. Available at: http://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/P%C4%81rskats-2017_final-LV-13.03.2018..pdf/. Last assessed 05.01.2019

To what extent does the process of appointing (supreme or constitutional court) justices guarantee the independence of the judiciary?

10
 9

Justices are appointed in a cooperative appointment process with special majority requirements.
 8
 7
 6


Justices are exclusively appointed by different bodies with special majority requirements or in a cooperative selection process without special majority requirements.
 5
 4
 3


Justices are exclusively appointed by different bodies without special majority requirements.
 2
 1

All judges are appointed exclusively by a single body irrespective of other institutions.
Appointment of Justices
8
Judges are appointed in a cooperative manner. While the parliament approves appointments, candidates are nominated by the minister of justice or the president of the supreme courtSupreme Court based on advice from the Judicial Qualification Board. Initial appointments at the district court level are for a period of three years, followed either by an additional two years or a lifetime appointment upon parliamentary approval. Regional and supreme court judges are appointed for life (with a compulsory retirement age of 70). Promotion of a judge from one level to another level requires parliamentary approval.

Parliamentarians vote on the appointment of every judge and are not required to justify refusing an appointment. In October 2010, a new judicial council was established in order to rebalance the relationship between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive branch. The judicial council has taken over the function of approving the transfer of judges between positions within the same court level.

Judges are barred from political activity. In 2011, the Constitutional Court lifted immunity for one of its own judges, Vineta Muizniece, enabling the Prosecutor General to bring criminal charges for falsifying documents in her previous position as a member of parliament. Muizniece’s appointment to the Constitutional Court was controversial because of her political engagement and profile as an active politician. The court has convicted Muizniece, but the case is under appeal. Muizniece was initially suspended from the Constitutional Court pending judgment and then removed from office in 2014 after a final guilty verdict.

A new system for evaluating judges has been in place since January 2013, with the aim of strengthening judicial independence. While the government can comment, it does not have the power to make decisions. A judges’ panel is responsible for evaluations, with the court administration providing administrative support in collecting data. The panel can evaluate a judge favorably or unfavorably and, as a consequence of this simple rating system, has tended to avoid rendering unfavorable assessments. In one case, a judge successfully appealed an unfavorable assessment on the grounds that the assessment could not be substantiated. The verdict concluded that the judges’ panel is required to substantiate unfavorable assessments.

In 2018, amendments to the Law on Judicial Power reduced the influence of executive power on the organization of court work and extended the competence of the Council for the Judiciary in appointing chairs of the courts.


Nevertheless, a ENCJ survey of judges from 26 European countries found that Latvia scored relatively poorly in terms of Latvian judges’ evaluation of judicial independence (scoring between 6.5 and 7 on a 10-point scale). 11% of Latvian judges reported being subjected to inappropriate pressure. In rank order, the main sources of pressure were the media, political parties and their lawyers, and court management (including a court president).

Citations:
1. The Constitutional Court of Latvia (2011), Ruling on Initiation of Prosecution against Constitutional Court Judge Vineta Muizniece, Available at: http://titania.saeima.lv/LIVS11/saeimalivs_lmp.nsf/0/AB89B4FC4C69868DC22579410042BEF9?OpenDocument, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

2. Supreme Court Senate (2018), The competence of the Council for the Judiciary in appointing chairs of courts and in transfer of judges shall be expanded, Available at: http://www.at.gov.lv/en/jaunumi/par-tieslietu-padomi/the-competence-of-the-council-for-the-judiciary-in-appointing-chairs-of-courts-and-in-transfer-of-judges-shall-be-expanded-9374?year=2018&, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

To what extent are public officeholders prevented from abusing their position for private interests?

10
 9

Legal, political and public integrity mechanisms effectively prevent public officeholders from abusing their positions.
 8
 7
 6


Most integrity mechanisms function effectively and provide disincentives for public officeholders willing to abuse their positions.
 5
 4
 3


Some integrity mechanisms function, but do not effectively prevent public officeholders from abusing their positions.
 2
 1

Public officeholders can exploit their offices for private gain as they see fit without fear of legal consequences or adverse publicity.
Corruption Prevention
7
Latvia’s main integrity mechanism is the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (Korupcijas novēršanas un apkarošanas birojs, KNAB). The Group of States Against Corruption has recognized KNAB as an effective institution, though it has identified the need to further strengthen institutional independence to remove concerns of political interference.

In recent years, KNAB has experienced several controversial leadership changes and been plagued by a persistent state of internal management disarray. Internal conflicts have spilled into the public sphere. For example, the previous KNAB director and deputy director were embroiled in a series of court cases over disciplinary measures in 2015 and 2016. These court cases ended with the director dismissing two deputy directors in the summer of 2016. Both have appealed their dismissal. The director adopted an administrative approach that resulted in a high turnover of qualified staff. Furthermore, these scandals have weakened public trust in the institution. A new, well-qualified and seemingly independent director, who formerly worked in the military, was appointed in 2017.
The Conflict of Interest Law is the key piece of legislation relating to officeholder integrity. The Conflict of Interest Law created a comprehensive financial disclosure system and introduced a requirement for all violations to be publicly disclosed. In 2012, all Latvian citizens were required to make a one-time asset declaration in order to create a financial baseline against which the assets of public officeholders could be compared. This information is confidential and there is no publicly available evaluation of the efficacy of this policy.

Party-financing regulations contain significant transparency requirements, limitations on donation sources and size, and campaign expenditure caps. KNAB is charged with oversight of public financing for political parties. In 2012, violations of campaign-finance laws were criminalized, but no criminal cases have yet been presented. In 2016, multiple parties were sanctioned for violations of public financing rules. Vienotība, a major parliamentary party, has had its public funding withdrawn due to violations of campaign finance restrictions.

The slow progress of cases through the court systems undermines efforts to assess the system’s effectiveness. However, available statistics indicate some positive trends. In 2016, for example, the number of persons tried in the court of first instance increased to 34, from an all-time low of 23 in 2014. Defendants included police officers, customs officers, border guards and one judge. In five cases, sentencing included prison terms. In 2016, the largest bribery case involved a €68,560 bribe, offered to an official of KNAB. The outcome of this case is still pending.

In 2017, a high-profile corruption investigation, dismissed by the prosecutor’s office, came under public scrutiny. A series of leaked recorded conversations of “oligarchs” colluding to manipulate political decision-making has forced the re-examination of this investigation and the reasons why it was dismissed. A parliamentary inquiry process ended inconclusively. In 2018, the Governor of the Latvian Central Bank was investigated following serious allegations of bribery. He has since been suspended, but has not stepped down from his position, although his six-year tenure will end in December 2019.

Overall, the Latvian government has taken efforts to fight corruption and money laundering in recent years, particularly following the U.S. FinCen report (which led to the liquidation of ABLV bank) and the Council of Europe’s 2018 Moneyval report. Latvia’s admission to the OECD in 2016 significantly raised the country’s international credibility. However, the successes of the country’s investigative and auditing bodies have remained limited.

Nevertheless, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2017 ranked Latvia 40 out of 180 countries, with one being the least corrupt country. Latvia’s average ranking in the index was 53 between 1998 and 2017, from a record high rank of 71 in 1998 to a record low rank of 40 in 2015.

Citations:
1. Corruption °C (2017), Updated Statistics on Convictions for Corruption Offences (2016 Data Added), Available at: http://providus.lv/article/jaunaka-statistika-par-korupcijas-lietu-iztiesasanu-latvija, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

2. Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO)() (2012), Fourth Evaluation Round, Corruption Prevention in Respect of Members of Parliament, Judges and Prosecutors, Evaluation Report, Available at: www.legislationline.org/documents/id/18945, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

3. Freedom House (2018), Nations in Transit, Country Report, Available at: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/latvia, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

4. Corruption Perceptions Index 2017. Available at: https://www.transparency.org/country/LVA, Last assessed: 05.01.2019

5. KNAB (2014), Attitudes toward Corruption in Latvia (in Latvian), Available at: http://www.knab.gov.lv/uploads/free/knab_lf_aptauja2014.pdf, Last assessed: 22.10.2019
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