With the First Constitution of Estonia and the Supreme Court Act, the Estonian Constituent Assembly established the Supreme Court of Estonia as a court of cassation on 21 October 1919. The first Justices of the Court were Kaarel Parts (Chief Justice), Paul Beniko, Rein Koemets, Jaan Lõo, Hugo Reiman, Martin Taevere and Peeter Puusepp. The Court first sat in Tartu Town Hall on 14 January 1920. During the centralisation of power in 1935, the Supreme Court was transferred to Tallinn, operating from a specially remodelled building on Wismari Street. When the Court last sat on 31 December 1940, it accepted an order by the government of the Estonian SSR to disband itself as of 1 January 1941.
When the Fourth Constitution of Estonia was adopted by referendum, the legal basis was created for the re-establishment of the Supreme Court. Rait Maruste was designated as the first Chief Justice. The re-established Court held its first hearing in Tartu Town Hall on 27 May 1993.
In 1919, a manor house on Aia street in Tartu was designated for the Supreme Court by the Government of Estonia. Moving to the designated building was delayed, though, because the building in question was used for the peace negotiations between Estonia and Russian SFSR; on 2 February 1920 the building hosted the signing of the Treaty of Tartu. The Supreme Court worked out of the Aia Street building during the period of 1920-1935. The building currently houses a secondary school - Jaan Poska Gymnasium. From 1935 until its disbandment in 1940, the Court sat in Tallinn, in a building on the current Wismari Street.
In 1993, the Supreme Court moved into its current building - the former barracks-infirmary at Lossi 17.
The Court en banc (Estonian: Üldkogu) is the highest body of the Court and consists of all 19 Justices. Any decision is voted upon on a simple majority basis; in case of a tie, the Chief Justice has the deciding vote. For the Court to be capable of making decisions, at least 11 Justices must be present.
Only the Court en banc has the authority to propose appointments and dismissals of inferior Judges, decide on disciplinary complaints against Judges and authorize declarations of incapability of members of Riigikogu, the President of Estonia, the Chancellor of Justice or the Auditor General.
A case can be referred to the Court en banc by any of the lower chambers of the Court, and all decisions made by the en banc panel are binding for the lower chambers. In 2012, for example, the Court sat en banc to decide on the legality of the European Stability Mechanism. The case was referred to the panel by the Constitutional Review Chamber because of its public and controversial nature.
An Intercameral (ad hoc) panel (Estonian: Erikogu) is summoned to solve disputes between chambers of the court regarding interpretation of the law and to decide on intra-court disputes on jurisdiction. An intercameral panel is summoned and presided over by the Chief Justice and includes two Justices from all relevant ordinary (Civil, Criminal and Administrative) chambers. Decisions of the intercameral panel are binding for lower chambers, unless they've been overruled by the Court en banc.
The Constitutional Review Chamber (Estonian: Põhiseaduslikkuse järelevalve kolleegium) fulfils the role of the constitutional court in the Estonian legal system. The Chief Justice of the Court is ex officio the chairman of the Constitutional Review Chamber. The Constitutional Review Chamber is composed of the Chief Justice and eight Justices, representing all ordinary lower chambers. Annually, two of the most senior members of the Chamber are released from their duties thereto, and two new ones are elected by the Court en banc. The Constitutional Review Chamber can strike out in any legislation that is deemed unconstitutional, and can advise Riigikogu on the constitutionality of any proposed EU law.
According to Chapter 2 of the Constitutional Review Court Procedure Act, an application for Constitutional Review can be started by the Chancellor of Justice, the President of Estonia, any Local Government Council or an inferior Court. Even though the Law doesn't allow for individuals or companies to lodge applications, in some cases such applications have been accepted, if the applicants had no other practicable way of constitutional protection.
The three ordinary chambers of the Court hear appeals and applications for review of new evidence from Circuit Courts. The Administrative Chamber (Estonian: Halduskolleegium) has six members, the Civil Chamber (Estonian: Tsiviilkolleegium) includes seven Justices, and the Criminal Chamber (Estonian: Kriminaalkolleegium) has six members. Most cases are heard by a panel of three judges; however, if the panel disagrees on the interpretation of a point of law or wishes to overrule a previous decision of their own chamber, the case is transferred to the full Chamber. If it's necessary to overrule a previous decision of another chamber, the case is head by an ad hoc inter-chamberal panel. If the chamber wishes to overrule a decision by the inter-chamberal panel or the Court en banc, the case is transferred to the Court en banc immediately.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the Riigikogu on the advice of the President of Estonia. According to §27 of the Courts Act, the Chief Justice is appointed for 9 years and no person can be appointed for two consecutive terms of office.
There have been five Chief Justices during the operation of the Court:Kaarel Parts (1919–1940)
Rait Maruste (1992–1998)
Uno Lõhmus (1998–2004)
Märt Rask (2004–2013)
Priit Pikamäe (since 2013)
Any experienced lawyer in good standing can apply to become a Justice of the Supreme Court following an announcement of a public competition. Successful candidates are appointed for life tenure by Riigikogu on the advice of the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The Court ordinarily includes 19 Justices; however, one or more positions are often vacant. The current Justices are listed below.Priit Pikamäe - Chief Justice, ex officio Chairman of the Constitutional Review Chamber
Tõnu Anton - Justice
Indrek Koolmeister - Justice
Ivo Pilving - Justice
Jüri Põld - Justice
Ants Kull - Justice
Peeter Jerofejev - Justice
Henn Jõks - Justice
Villu Kõve - Justice
Malle Seppik - Justice
Jaak Luik - Justice
Tambet Tampuu - Justice
Hannes Kiris - Justice
Jüri Ilvest - Justice
Ott Järvesaar - Justice
Eerik Kergandberg - Justice
Lea Kivi - Justice
Saale Laos - Justice
Julia Laffranque - former Justice of the Administrative Law Chamber (2004-2010), currently Justice of the European Court of Human Rights
According to §991 of the Courts Act, the mandatory retirement age for any Judges, including the Chief Justice and Justices of the Supreme Court, is 68 years.
In accordance with the Courts Act, a Justice of the Supreme Court can be released from office by Riigikogu on advice of the Chief Justice, while the Chief Justice can be released by Riigikogu on advice of the President. Any release from office has to be for one of the reasons laid out in §99(1) of Courts Act as quoted below.
"(1) A judge shall be released from office:
1) at the request of the judge;
2) due to age;
3) due to unsuitability for office – within three years after appointment to office;
4) due to health reasons which hinders work as a judge;
5) upon liquidation of the court or reduction of the number of judges;
6) if after leaving service on the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Justice, an international court institution or after returning from an international civil mission, a judge does not have the opportunity to return to his or her former position of judge, and he or she does not wish to be transferred to another court.
7) if a judge is appointed or elected to the position or office which is not in accordance with the restrictions on services of judges;
8) if facts become evident which according to law preclude the appointment of the person as a judge."Conference of European Constitutional Courts
World Conference on Constitutional Justice
Association of Councils of State and Supreme Administrative Jurisdictions of the European Union
Venice Commission of Council of Europe