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Last update: 13-05-2005
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Legal order - Estonia

Estonian legal order is based on statute law. The state authority shall be exercised solely pursuant to the Constitution and laws, which are in conformity therewith. Generally recognised principles and rules of international law are an inseparable part of the Estonian legal system. Legislative power is vested in the Riigikogu (the Parliament).

The sources of law are Estonian legal acts, decrees and regulations, but also international treaties. Court decisions do not create rights, and the decisions of the higher court instances are generally not binding for the lower courts. At the same time the Supreme Court (i.e. the highest court, which also is the court of constitutional review) is entitled to declare invalid such legislative acts, which are not in conformity with constitution or with legislation with a higher authority. All courts are allowed not to apply such an act in resolving a concrete court case and declare such an act unconstitutional (but not invalid).

The law is a legal act of the highest legal force, passed by theRiigikogu or by a referendum. Laws shall be passed in accordance with the Constitution. Laws shall be published in the prescribed manner in an official journal „Riigi Teataja“. Only published laws have obligatory force. A law shall enter into force on the tenth day after its publication in the Riigi Teataja, unless the law itself provides otherwise.

The following have the right to initiate laws:

  • a member of the Riigikogu;
  • a faction of the Riigikogu;
  • a committee of the Riigikogu;
  • the Government of the Republic;
  • the President of the Republic, for amendment of the Constitution.

The Riigikogu has the right, on the basis of a resolution made by a majority of its membership, to propose to the Government of the Republic to initiate a bill desired by the Riigikogu.

Legislation of the Riigikogu shall be passed by a majority of votes in favour, unless otherwise prescribed by the Constitution. However, the following laws may be passed and amended only by a majority of the membership of the Riigikogu:

  • Citizenship Act;
  • Riigikogu Election Act;
  • President of the Republic Election Act;
  • Local Government Election Act;
  • Referendum Act;
  • Riigikogu Procedure Act and Riigikogu Administration Act;
  • Remuneration of the President of the Republic and Members of the Riigikogu Act;
  • Government of the Republic Act;
  • Institution of Court Proceedings against the President of the Republic and Members of the Government Act;
  • National Minorities Cultural Autonomy Act;
  • State Budget Act;
  • Bank of Estonia Act;
  • State Audit Office Act;
  • Courts Administration Act and court procedure Acts;
  • Acts pertaining to foreign and domestic borrowing, and to proprietary obligations of the state;
  • State of Emergency Act;
  • Peace-Time National Defence Act and Wartime National Defence Act.

The Riigikogu has the right to submit a bill or other national issue to a referendum. The decision of the people shall be made by a majority of the participants in the voting. A law, which is passed by a referendum, shall promptly be proclaimed by the President of the Republic. The decision of the referendum shall be 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 of the Republic shall declare extraordinary elections to the Riigikogu. Issues regarding the budget, taxation, financial obligations of the state, ratification and denunciation of international treaties, the declaration or termination of a state of emergency or national defence shall not be submitted to a referendum.


Laws shall be proclaimed by the President of the Republic. The President of the Republic may refuse to proclaim a law passed by the Riigikogu and, within fourteen days after its receipt, return the law, together with his or her reasoned resolution, to the Riigikogu for a new debate and decision. If the Riigikogu again passes the law, which is returned to it by the President of the Republic, unamended, the President of the Republic shall proclaim the law or shall propose to the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court declares the law constitutional, the President of the Republic shall proclaim the law.

A decree is a legal act of legal force, proclaimed by the President of the Republic. Under Constitution is the President entitled to proclaim:

  • special decrees in cases the Riigikogu is unable to convene and the urgent national needs become evident;
  • so-called emergency decrees, when urgent national needs become evident in emergency situation declared by the Government of the Republic, when the Riigikogu cannot or has no time to convene.

The decrees bear the counter-signatures of the Speaker of Riigikogu and of the Prime Minister. The decree of the President of the Republic enters into force on the tenth day after publishing in the Riigi Teataja (State Gazette), if not provided otherwise in the decree itself. When the Riigikogu convenes, the President of the Republic shall present the decrees to the Riigikogu, which shall promptly pass a law for their confirmation or repeal.

The Constitution, laws, which may be passed or amended only by the majority vote of the composition of the Riigikogu, laws which establish state taxes and the state budget shall not be enacted, amended or repealed by a decree of the President of the Republic.

Regulations are the sources of law, adopted under laws for enforcement by the Government and ministers. The Government and the ministers are entitled to adopt intra legem regulations. The regulations of the Government and of the minister enter into force on the third day after publishing in the Riigi Teataja, if not provided otherwise in the regulation itself. The councils of local governments are also entitled to issue regulations for organisation of local issues or in cases, stipulated in the law. The regulations are not in hierarchical relations.

Under the Constitution an International treaty is above national laws. If laws or other legislation of Estonia are in conflict with international treaties ratified by the Riigikogu, the provisions of the international treaty shall apply.

The Republic of Estonia shall not enter into international treaties, which are in conflict with the Constitution. International agreements enter into force pursuant to the procedure provided in the agreement.

The application of foreign law is governed by the Private International Law Act.

If according to an Act, international agreement or transaction a foreign law is to be applied, the court shall apply such law regardless of weather or not application of the law is requested. A foreign law shall be applied pursuant to the interpretation and practice of application of the applicable law in the corresponding state. A foreign law shall not be applied if the result of such application would be in obvious conflict with the essential principles of Estonian law (public policy). In such case, Estonian law applies.

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Last update: 13-05-2005

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