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Last update: 21-08-2007
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Legal order - Latvia

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Hierarchy of sources of law 1.
2. Legal instruments or "sources of law" that determine the status of international law, European Union law, the Constitution, acts and other legislation within the legal system 2.
3. Other sources of law (general principles of law, common law, case law) and their significance 3.
3.1. General principles of law 3.1.
3.2. Common law 3.2.
3.3. Case law 3.3.
4. Authorities entitled to adopt legislation and their areas of responsibility 4.
5. Procedures for drafting legislation 5.
6. Rules regarding entry into force of national legal provisions 6.
7. Regulations laying down entry into force of regulations included in transnational instruments 7.
8. How does Latvia resolve potential discrepancies or contradictions between various legal provisions and sources of law 8.

 

1. Hierarchy of sources of law

Latvian legislation is subject to the following hierarchy:

  1. the Constitution;
  2. acts, Cabinet regulations effective as acts;
  3. Cabinet regulations;
  4. compulsory local authority regulations.

2. Legal instruments or "sources of law" that determine the status of international law, European Union law, the Constitution, acts and other legislation within the legal system

Section 15(3) of the Act on Administrative Procedures lays down that international legislation, regardless of its source, is applicable in accordance with its position in the hierarchy of legal force of external legislation. Where a discrepancy emerges between an international legislative provision and a Latvian legislative provision with equal legal force, the international legislative provision prevails.

As is the case with other legislation, the legal force of an international agreement depends on the institution that has signed or approved the agreement and under what procedures this has been done. Hence, an international agreement ratified by the Saeima (Parliament) has the same legal force on a formal level as an act, and an international agreement approved by the Cabinet of Ministers has the same force as a Cabinet Regulation.

However, pursuant to Section 13 of the Act on International Agreements of the Republic of Latvia, where an international agreement approved by the Saeima provides for rules which differ from those laid down in Latvian legislation, the provisions of the international agreement are applicable. Section 16(9) of the Constitutional Court Act also states that while international agreements must be in compliance with the Constitution, international agreements nevertheless have priority over other national legislation, including acts.

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Pursuant to Section 15(4) of the Act on Administrative Procedures the provisions of European Union (Community) legislation are applicable in accordance with their status in the hierarchy of legal force of external legislation. When applying European Union (Community) legislation authorities and courts must take into account Court of Justice law. Since its accession to the European Union the Republic of Latvia must apply directly or indirectly not only regulations, but also other legal instruments of the European Union: the EU's founding treaties, the Community's agreements with third countries, directives, decisions by the EU institutions, recommendations, opinions, cooperation instruments under pillar 2 (common foreign and security policy) and pillar 3 (cooperation on justice and home affairs), general legal provisions of the Member States, and finally, legal principles established under European Court of Justice case law.

3. Other sources of law (general principles of law, common law, case law) and their significance

3.1. General principles of law

The application of a general principle of law as a source of law is referred to under Section 5 of the Latvian Civil Act and Section 11(3) of the Act on Civil Procedures. Section 15(5) of the Act on Administrative Procedures provides for the application of general principles of law where a given issue is not regulated under external legislation and also for the purposes of interpreting legislation.

Furthermore, in Section 4 of the Act on Administrative Procedures the legislator emphasises the following principles of administrative procedures and their meaning:

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  1. the principle of observing the rights of private individuals;
  2. the principle of equality;
  3. the principle of the rule of law;
  4. the principle of the reasonable application of legal provisions;
  5. the principle of prohibiting arbitrariness;
  6. the principle of confidence in the legality of actions;
  7. the principle of legal basis;
  8. the principle of democratic structure;
  9. the principle of proportionality;
  10. the principle of the priority of the law.

The Act on the Jurisdiction of the Courts incorporates general principles of law such as the equality of individuals before the law, the immunity of the courts and court assessors, equal rights of the parties, presumption of innocence, etc.

3.2. Common law

Under Section 2 of the Civil Act common law can neither annul nor amend legislative acts and is applicable in cases specified under legislation. International common law also applies pursuant to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

3.3. Case law

Case law is an important source of law for establishing the harmonised application of legislation and thereby ensuring legal certainty. Case law is an auxiliary source used as an interpretative instrument.

4. Authorities entitled to adopt legislation and their areas of responsibility

Section 64 of the Constitution lays down that legislative power falls to the Saeima and to the people (by referendum). Under Section 81 of the Constitution the Cabinet of Ministers is also entitled to issue regulations which are effective as acts. Hence the Saeima and the people hold primary legislative power, and this entitlement can be delegated further to the Cabinet and to local authorities. Pursuant to the Act on the Structure of the Cabinet of Ministers the Cabinet can issue legislation in the form of regulations where the law specifically authorises the Cabinet to do so and if the matter concerned is not regulated by an act. Compulsory local authority regulations are issued by local authorities in accordance with the Local Authorities Act. Furthermore, the Constitution provides for delegation of legislative powers by the Saeima to international institutions.

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The legislative powers of the Saeima cover the whole of Latvia, but the legislative powers of local authorities are limited to the specific territory under a given local authority's remit.

5. Procedures for drafting legislation

Draft acts may be submitted to the Saeima by:

  • the president
  • the Cabinet of Ministers
  • parliamentary committees
  • no fewer than five parliamentary deputies
  • one tenth of the electorate
  1. First reading – the first reading of draft act includes notification by the committee in charge followed by a debate on the principles of the draft act. At the end of the debate the Saeima decides whether to adopt the draft act at the first reading. If the draft act is not adopted at the first reading it is considered to have been rejected and can only be resubmitted for review in the same session if signed by at least 51 parliamentary deputies or when amendments have been made to the draft.
    Where the Saeima, acting on a proposal by the committee in charge or ten parliamentary deputies, adopts a decision to recognise a draft as urgent, the draft is subject to only two readings. The following are adopted after two readings:
    • draft acts recognised as urgent;
    • the draft State budget and amendments to the budget;
    • draft acts providing for the approval of international agreements.
  2. Second reading – draft acts are prepared for their second reading by the committee in charge, which provides a report on the proposals submitted. Proposals for amendments to a draft act or a draft decision by the Saeima can be submitted by:
    • the president
    • a Saeima committee
    • a fraction or political block
    • a parliamentary deputy
    • the prime minister, deputy prime minister, a minister, a State minister
    • the parliamentary secretary to a ministry under the authority of a minister
    • the legal service of the Saeima, where proposals concern technical aspects of the legislation or codification.
    A proposal is considered to have been adopted when it has received an absolute majority of votes by the parliamentary deputies present. After all proposals have been reviewed a vote is held on the draft act in its entirety including the adopted proposals. If the Saeima rejects the draft act at its second reading it is returned to the committee in charge and can be resubmitted for a second reading. Where the Saeima adopts a draft act by these means the draft is returned to the committee in charge to be prepared for a third reading.
  3. Third reading – during the third reading of a draft act only the Sections which were subject to proposals following the second reading are considered and voted on. When all the proposals have been reviewed a vote is held on the draft act in its entirety including the adopted proposals. If the Saeima rejects the draft act at its third reading it is returned to the committee in charge and can be resubmitted for a third reading.
  4. Second revision of an act – where the president requests a second revision of an act under Section 71 of the Constitution, the Saeima submits the president's reasoned objections to the committee in charge. The rules relating to a third reading of a draft act are applicable where an act is being reviewed and only the objections and proposals put forward by the president are examined.A draft act is considered to have been adopted and becomes an act when it has received three or two readings, as the case may be, and an absolute majority of the parliamentary deputies present vote for its adoption. Acts adopted by the Saeima are promulgated by the president.

6. Rules regarding entry into force of national legal provisions

  1. Acts – under the Act on the Promulgation, Publication, Procedures for Entry into Force and Validity of Acts and Other Legislation Adopted by the Saeima, the President and the Cabinet of Ministers, an act enters into force on the fourteenth day following its promulgation unless specified otherwise in the act. This period of fourteen days leading up to an act's entry into force begins on the day after its publication.
  2. Cabinet Regulations – pursuant to the Act on the Structure of the Cabinet of Ministers, Cabinet instructions and recommendations are published under the same procedures as acts. They enter into force on the day after publication unless a different date is specified.
  3. Compulsory local authority regulations – under the Local Authorities Act orders and instructions enter into force on the day after they are signed unless a different date is specified for entry into force. Local authority decisions relating to individual natural or legal persons enter into force upon their signature. Compulsory regulations issued by city councils are published in the official journal no later than two weeks after their adoption and enter into force the day after their publication. Compulsory regulations issued by regional councils, district councils and municipal councils are displayed in a visible location in or near a local authority council building no later than two weeks after their adoption and enter into force the day after they are first displayed.

7. Regulations laying down entry into force of regulations included in transnational instruments

International agreements are approved under acts adopted by the Saeima. Acts adopted by the Saeima are promulgated by the president. All international agreements and their Latvian language translations are published in the official journal Latvijas Vēstnesis and in the Cabinet journal Ziņotājs. An act enters into force on the fourteenth day following its promulgation unless specified otherwise in the act. The days leading up to the entry into force of an act are counted from the day after its publication.

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8. How does Latvia resolve potential discrepancies or contradictions between various legal provisions and sources of law

  1. Discrepancies between legislative provisions (principles) are resolved by reinterpreting (and thus harmonising) these provisions (principles), or by applying a system of priority.
  2. Where a contradiction is identified between various legislative provisions with different legal force the legislative provision with the highest legal force is applicable.
  3. Where a contradiction is established between international legislative provisions and national legislative provisions the international legislative provisions prevail.
  4. Where a contradiction is established between general and special legislation with equal legal force the general legislation is applicable as far as this is not restricted by the special legislation.
  5. Where a earlier legislative provision is incompatible with a later legislative provision the later provision prevails.
  6. Where a later general legislative provision is incompatible with an earlier special legislative provision, the earlier special legislative provision prevails.

Pursuant to the Act on Administrative Procedures, when deciding which of two legislative provisions of equal legal force takes priority, account must be taken of the objective significance represented by these legislative provisions in an overall context, and priority should be accorded to the provision which regulates an issue of significance to democratic society and the system of government.

Furthermore, where an authority responsible for applying certain legislation has reasonable doubts about the compliance of the legislation with other legislation that has greater legal force, it must apply the provisions concerned but must also inform a superior authority and the Ministry of Justice of its misgivings. Authorities and courts are not permitted to refuse to take decisions on issues based on the fact that the issues concerned are not regulated under a legislative act.

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Last update: 21-08-2007

 
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