The judicial power is separated from the other powers of the State and their sphere of influence. Justice is administered by only the court; this means that a dispute is decided in its final stage by a court. In certain matters, justice is administered by officials of the State or the local government. For example, an official has the right to make the decision in a misdemeanour procedure that can be punished with a monetary penalty.
The function of administering justice is also fulfilled by other bodies established for that purpose. Labour dispute committees have been established for solving individual labour disputes, and the Industrial Property Committee has been established for solving disputes related to intellectual property. These bodies are administrative organs fulfilling the functions of administering justice that do not belong into the court system according to the Constitution. Also, the courts of honour of professional associations are not a part of the court system of the State.
The court system consists of the following:
- County courts and administrative courts
- District courts
- The Supreme Court.
All court cases are begun in a court of first instance, i.e. a county court or an administrative court. A district court is a court of second instance, reviewing only the rulings of the courts of first instance. As all court cases are begun in a county court or in an administrative court, a procedure party has the option to appeal twice to a court of higher instance: an appeal to a district court on a ruling of the court of first instance and an appeal to the Supreme Court on a ruling of the court of second instance.
A county court decides civil, criminal and misdemeanour cases, and the competence of an administrative court includes public law disputes. The Supreme Court is also a court of constitutional supervision; this means the right to inspect the conformance of the laws approved by the Riigikogu to the Constitution and to pronounce a law invalid if it is in discrepancy with the relevant clause of the Constitution and with the sense of the Constitution. A person has the right to have a defending party in a criminal or misdemeanour procedure and a representative in other court procedures.
A judge administers justice in conformance with the Constitution and the laws. In order to ensure rights and freedoms, it is important that the judge doesn’t obey the will of the executing power and an individual person in making the decision, but instead obeys only the law that is applied the same way to all citizens. Judges are assigned their office for life and this is considered one of the main factors securing the independence of judges.
Representing the public prosecution is one of the tasks of the Prosecutor’s Office. The Prosecutor’s Office represents the public prosecution only in proceeding criminal matters in court. The Prosecutor’s Office does not participate in misdemeanour proceedings.