Code of Conduct of Estonian Judges

Adopted on 13 February 2004 at the third annual plenary meeting of judges

Amended on 8 February 2019 at the eighteenth annual plenary meeting of judges

Whereas the impartiality, independence and integrity of judges must be unconditionally guaranteed in a country based on the rule of law, whereas Estonia must comply with the principles of fair administration of justice as well as the good practice of judges and legal traditions developed in the world, recognising the need to comply with the standards of professional practice and competency requirements of judges, considering the central place held by judges in securing democracy and legal order, and that the high level of professionalism and impeccable behaviour of judges are conditions and guarantees for the authority of courts and the administration of justice, considering that judges have been given the right to decide on people’s freedom, rights, obligations and assets, whereas the mission of the court is to serve the people, being aware of the high moral and legal responsibility of judges, we, the judges of Estonia, establish the following rules of ethics for ourselves and commit to complying with them in public.

General provisions

1. A judge upholds the reputation of honesty and independence of the judges.

2. A judge performs their duties impartially, selflessly and diligently, and uses the power granted to them in the best possible manner.

3. A judge organises their life and activities, including the legal activities, in such a manner that the potential risk of conflict with the duties as a judge would be minimal.

4. A judge may engage in law-making and the perfection of the legal and judiciary system, and participate in academic or scientific work.

5. A judge may also participate in civil associations and charity organisations whilst avoiding conflicts of interest and being taken advantage of contrary to the interests of the administration of justice. A judge may also participate in activities aimed at earning income, considering good practices of conduct and honest business.

6. A judge avoids indecency in all of their actions and statements. As a judge is under the attention of the public, they must accept personal restrictions that may seem burdening to ordinary people. Above all, a judge must behave in a manner suitable for the respectable nature of the position of judge.

7. A judge refrains from political activities and from making statements that express political sympathies.

8. A judge is a role model in compliance with law and the legal order.

9. A judge draws the attention of a colleague to indisputably undignified behaviour and violation of the rules established in this code, and tries to put an end to such behaviour. If necessary, they inform the full court or the president of the court about what happened.

10. The rules of professional conduct are interpreted on the basis of law, the ruling of the disciplinary chamber of judges, the practice establishment among the judiciary, the opinions of senior colleagues and the conscience of the judges. A judge proceeds from said principles when deciding on their conduct in issues not regulated in the code of conduct.

Special provisions

Court and administration of justice.

11. A judge takes care of their professional qualifications and takes part in refresher training. A judge shares their professional knowledge and experience with their colleagues.

12. A judge remains calm, respectable and dignified in their work.

13. A judge is patient and polite in respect of all participants in proceedings, colleagues and court staff, and requires similar conduct from others as well.

14. A court is impartial and fair when administering justice and tries to seem such to reasonable bystanders as well. For this purpose, a judge treats all parties to the proceedings equally, refrains from unnecessary and irrelevant comments or remarks. They avoid becoming irritated and angry, raising their voice, facial expressions and movements that express their attitude or other similar conduct that may make the impression that they are partial.

15. A judge resolves court cases in a reasonable time whilst avoiding rushing and superficiality, and refraining from postponement of making their judgments on formal and unreasonable grounds. A judge does now allow the parties to the proceedings to abuse their rights or drag out the proceedings.

16. A judge refrains from expressing their opinion on ongoing or coming proceedings and their possible results, and requires a similar conduct from the court staff as well. A judge does not criticise the proceedings or rulings of other judges in public.

17. A judge maintains the confidentiality of the information that has become known to them during proceedings and requires this from other court staff as well. This rule does not release the judge from the obligation to inform the authorities, in the interests of legal order, of any offences that have been committed.

18. A judge on whom administrative obligations have been imposed performs them with diligence, maintains their professional competence and respectability, and facilitates the work of other judges and court staff. They establish the same requirements regarding work to colleagues and court staff.

19. A judge will not make confrontations with their colleagues or any other internal matters of the judiciary public.

Independence and impartiality

20. A judge avoids conflicts of interest. They do not allow their family members, social or other relationships to influence their work as a judge.

21. A judge is independent from fellow judges and judges of courts of higher instances when making a ruling, unless they are dealing with the positions of a ruling made by a court of higher instance in the interpretation of law that is mandatory for the court that reviews a case again.

22. [repealed at the eighteenth annual plenary meeting of judges on 8 February 2019]

23. A judge refrains from political and business lunches and gatherings with the parties to proceedings if this may jeopardise their impartiality and result in a conflict of interest. In their personal relationships with members of the law community who have a regular practice in their court, a judge avoids situations that may give reasons for suspicions of or look like favouritism or partiality.

24. A judge does not participate in a political or profit-making association as a manager or official. They do not support political movements or their candidates in speech or in writing or request the support of funds for them.

25. A judge must remove themselves if their impartiality may be questionable, if they are prejudiced about a party to the proceedings; if they are in a close relationship with the persons concerned or have private information about the facts of the case or if they have previously given legal advice to the persons concerned, or know that the ruling may concern them or their family member.

26. A judge will not request or accept gifts, inheritance, loans or services in relation to what the judge has done, must do or must not do in the performance of their duties as a judge. A judge does not allow their family members, the court staff or other persons under their influence, discretion or power to do any of the above.

Activities outside the administration of justice

27. A judge uses their official power and title only in a purposeful manner and refrains from using it for their own benefits or in an undignified manner. A judge does not sacrifice or allow other persons to sacrifice their official prestige to personal interests.

28. A judge participates in social and cultural life according to good practices and makes sure that this does not damage their professional dignity and is not in conflict with their official duties.

29. A judge may belong to professional organisations as an ordinary member or as an official.

30. A judge refrains from drug use and alcohol abuse.

31. A judge behaves properly and respectably, and refrains from actions that may cast a shadow on their profession and the administration of justice.

32. A judge contributes to the open communication of the judicial system with the media and the public. The actions and decisions of a court are explained to the public understandably and as soon as possible when the need for this arises. A judge does not harm the reputation of the court or the dignity of the judge’s position when communicating with the media and the public.

Ethics Board of Judges

33. The Ethics Board of Judges (hereinafter the Board) is an advisory body. A judge may consult the Board in order to obtain an opinion in an issue concerning them. The Board may also make general recommendations at its own initiative or on the proposal of the judges.

34. The opinions and recommendations of the Board are not binding.

35. The opinions and recommendations of the Board are published on the website of the Supreme Court and the anonymity of the person who sent the request and the other persons concerned is guaranteed.

36. The Board consists of the five judges elected by the plenary meeting of judges and there may be emeritus judges among them. The term of office of members of the Board is three years.

37. The Board elects a chairman from among its members, who manages the work of the Board.

38. At least three Board members must participate in the preparation of opinions and five members in the preparation of recommendations. The opinions and recommendations of the Board are the result of a consensus. The Board may include an ethics expert for their opinion in the solution of a specific issue.

39. The Supreme Court guarantees the technical support for the Board.

40. When the Board is formed, the plenary meeting of judges elects two members into the Board for two years and three members for three years. The duration of the mandate will be decided by drawing lots.