Estonia is an independent and sovereign democratic republic. Its Constitution was adopted on 28 June 1992.
Legislative power is vested in a unicameral parliament (Riigikogu). The Riigikogu is comprised of one hundred and one members. Members of the Riigikogu are elected in free elections for a four-year term. Elections to the Riigikogu are universal, equal, direct and proportional and are conducted by secret ballot. The main responsibilities of the Riigikogu are set out in par.65 of the Estonian Constitution, and they include, amongst others: passing laws and resolutions, deciding upon the holding of a referendum, electing the President of the President of Estonia, ratifying and denouncing international treaties (in accordance with par.121 of the Constitution), as well as passing the State budget. The authority of a member of the Riigikogu is suspended upon his or her appointment as a member of the Government of the Republic, and should be restored upon release from his or her duties as a member of the Government. Paragraph 71 of the Constitution lays down that the Riigikogu must form committees. In addition, members of the Riigikogu have the right to form factions (par. 71 of the Constitution.
Legislative procedure: A member of the Riigikogu, its faction or committee and the Government of the Republic can initiate draft legislation (par. 103). The Board of the Riigikogu can also initiate a resolution of the Riigikogu . The President of the Republic can also exercise the right of legislative initiative if the Bill is to be an amendment to the Constitution. Each Bill is discussed at the plenary sittings of the Riigikogu at least two times. These discussions are called readings. The first reading of a Bill begins with the report of the initiator, who explains the need for the new law and presents its contents. Each member of the Riigikogu can pose two oral and an unlimited number of written questions to the presenter (initiator). After that the representative of the leading committee complies a short supplementary report that presents the opinion of the leading committee. The second reading of the Bill begins with the report of the initiator, which includes a survey of the work done on the Bill between the first and the second reading and comments on the motions for amendment. The debate is then opened. The third reading must take place within one month following the closing of the second reading. The order of conducting the second and the third reading is similar. The only difference is that during the third reading, only the authorized representative of each faction and committee can give a speech or a make a comment. Voting on the Bill takes place following the third reading. A law is adopted by a majority of votes of the Riigikogu. The Constitution sets out the laws that require a qualified majority of votes. The President of the Republic should proclaim laws. If the President refuses to proclaim a law passed by the Riigikogu the Bill is returned to the Parliament and subjected to a new debate and decision. If the Riigikogu again passes the law, which was returned to it, the President proclaims the law or submits the Bill to the Supreme Court for a declaration stating the law as unconstitutional. In the case where, the Supreme Court declares the normative act constitutional, the President proclaims the law.
If the Riigikogu is unable to convene, the President in matters of State emergency, may issue decrees, which have the force of law and which should be counter-signed by the Chairman of the Riigikogu and the Prime Minister. When the Riigikogu convenes, the President presents the decrees to the Riigikogu, which should promptly pass a law for their confirmation or repeal.
The Riigikogu has the right to submit a bill or other national issue to a referendum. The decision of the people should be made by a majority of the persons casting a vote. The President must promptly proclaim any law, which is passed by a referendum. The outcome of the referendum is binding on all State institutions. If a bill, which is submitted to a referendum, does not receive a majority of votes in favour, the President declares extraordinary elections to the Riigikogu.
Executive power is vested in the Government of the Republic. The President of the Republic, within fourteen days following the resignation of the Government, designates a candidate for Prime Minister.
The President represents the Republic of Estonia and its people in international relations, appoints to and releases from office members of the Government. The Head of State is elected by the Riigikogu on the terms set out in par.79 of the Constitution. The right to nominate a candidate for President rests with a majority of not less than one-fifths of the Riigikogu. The President is elected by secret ballot. Each member of the Riigikogu has one vote. A candidate in favour of whom a two-thirds majority of the members of the Riigikogu votes is considered elected. If no candidate receives the required majority, a new round of voting must be held on the next day. If no candidate receives the required majority in the second round of voting, a third round should be held between two candidates, who received the greatest number of votes in the second round. If after the third round the President of the Republic is still not elected, the Chairman of the Riigikogu convenes an electoral body to elect the President of the Republic. The electoral body should be comprised of members of the Riigikogu and representatives of the local government councils. Each local government council elects at least one representative to the electoral body. The Riigikogu presents the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes in the Riigikogu to the electoral body as candidates for the office of the President. The right to nominate a candidate for the President also rests with not less than twenty-one members of the electoral body. The electoral body elects the President by a majority of votes. If no candidate is elected in the first round, a second round of voting is held on the same day between the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes. The President is elected for a term of five years. No one may be elected to the office of the President for more than two consecutive terms.
The Legal Chancellor is an independent official, who reviews normative acts of the legislative and executive powers and of local governments for their conformity with the Constitution and the laws. The Riigikogu, on the proposal of the President of the Republic, for a term of seven years appoints the Legal Chancellor to the office. The Legal Chancellor may be removed from office only by a court judgment. The main duty of the Chancellor is constitutional review. If the Legal Chancellor finds that a normative act is in conflict with the Constitution or with the law, he or she requests the body, which passed the legislation, to bring the act into conformity with the Constitution or the law. If the legislation is not brought into conformity with the Constitution or the law within twenty days, the Legal Chancellor must request the Supreme Court to declare the legislation invalid. The Legal Chancellor also exercises the functions of the Ombudsman.
Estonian court system comprises of the following: County, City, and Administrative Courts; District Courts; Supreme Court.
County and City Courts, as well as Administrative Courts, are courts of first instance. County and City Courts deal with all civil and criminal cases, while Administrative Courts hear cases, within the scope of their jurisdiction that is defined by separate acts. The Administrative Courts give judgements on complaints concerning administrative decisions and on activities of the institutions of executive power.
District Courts (Courts of Appeal) as the courts of the second instance, hear appeals from decisions of County, City and Administrative Courts. District Courts are divided into panels according to the type of case under consideration (civil, criminal or administrative).
The Supreme Court is the highest court. It hears appeals from decisions of the District Courts and may also, in cases specified by law, overturn a decision of a lower or correct any miscarriage of justice. The Supreme Court is also the court of constitutional review. The Supreme Court must declare invalid any law or other legislation that is in conflict with the provisions and spirit of the Constitution (par.152 of the Constitution).
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