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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Latvia is a parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister, as chief executive, and the Cabinet are responsible for government operations. The President, as Head of State, is elected by the Parliament. The Parliament elected Vaira Vike-Freiberga to a 4-year term in June 1999.

The Saeima, a unicameral legislative body, now is the highest organ of Latvian state authority. It initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has full responsibility and control over his cabinet, and the President holds a primarily ceremonial role as Head of State.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Courts & Judgments

The Latvian judicial structure is composed of district (city) courts, regional courts, which hear appeals from district courts, the Supreme Court, which is the highest appeals court, and the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court is a seven-judge panel that is authorized to hear cases regarding constitutional issues at the request of state institutions or individuals who believe that their constitutional rights were violated. For more serious criminal cases, two lay assessors join the professional judge on the bench at the district and regional levels.

There are 34 district and city courts in Latvia. Civil cases generally are heard by the judge alone. Criminal cases and civil cases of specific categories are heard by a panel consisting of a professional judge and two lay judges. These courts also have the so-called administrative judges who hear administrative cases with the right to take decisions individually.

All judges are appointed by the Saeima at the recommendation of the Minister of Justice (judges of the Supreme Court at the recommendation of the Chairman of the Supreme Court). Only a Latvian citizen highly qualified and honest lawyer may be appointed as a judge. The following requirements must be complied with for the appointment to the post of a district (city) court judge: a degree in law, at least 25 years of age, at least 2 years of in-service time in a legal profession, success at passing a special qualification exam. For the appointment to the post of judge at a regional court or the Supreme Court, a determined duration of in-service time at court of the previous level or as an attorney, prosecutor or a lecturer at the Department of Law at a higher educational establishment is required. All the requirements concerning other judges with some exceptions apply also to the judges of the Constitutional Court.

Persons who are morally unfit to hold the post (have a criminal record, have had criminal charges brought against them or are under investigation; have participated in organizations hostile to the State of Latvia or banned in the Republic of Latvia) cannot be nominated as candidates to the post of a judge.

Source: U.S. Department of State; Ministry of Justice of Latvia

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Human Rights

The Latvian Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens and the large resident noncitizen community in 2001; however, problems remained in certain areas. Members of the security forces, including the police and other Interior Ministry personnel, sometimes used excessive force and mistreated persons. In most instances, the Government took disciplinary measures against those responsible. Prison conditions remained poor. Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. The inefficient judiciary did not always ensure the fair administration of justice. Violence against women, including domestic violence, was a problem, and women were discriminated against in the workplace. There were some reports of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. Child prostitution and abuse were problems. Trafficking in women and girls for the purpose of prostitution was a problem.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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