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

Lithuanian government is divided between the legislative and executive branches, with an independent judiciary acting as interpreter of the constitution and of the branches' jurisdictions, as well as arbiter of conflicts between them. The constitution clearly acknowledges the danger of concentration of power in a single person or institution. The legislature has regained its old name, Seimas, which was used in the interwar years. The executive consists of a president and a prime minister with a cabinet, known as the Council of Ministers.

The parliament consists of 141 members, seventy elected from party lists on the basis of proportional representation and seventy-one from single-member districts. To be seated in the Seimas on the basis of proportional representation, a party must receive at least 4 percent of the votes cast. An exception is made for ethnic minority groups, however, which do not need to pass the 4 percent threshold. The legislature is elected for four years. Candidates for the legislature must be at least twenty-five years old. Members of the Seimas may serve as prime minister or cabinet member, but they may not hold any other position in either central or local government or in private enterprises or organizations. The parliament must approve the prime minister, as well as his or her government and program. It also may force the government's resignation by rejecting twice in sequence its program or by expressing no confidence by a majority of legislators in secret ballot.

The president is elected directly by the people for a term of five years and a maximum of two consecutive terms. The president is not, strictly speaking, the chief of the executive branch or the chief administrator. The Lithuanians borrowed the French model of the presidency, then adapted it to their needs. Candidates must be at least forty years old. To be elected in the first round, 50 percent of the voters must participate and a candidate must receive more than half of the total votes cast. If 50 percent of the voters do not participate, a plurality wins the presidency unless it constitutes less than one-third of the total vote. If the first round does not produce a president, a second round is held within two weeks between the two top candidates. A plurality vote is sufficient to win.

The president is the head of state. The president also selects the prime minister (with the approval of the Seimas), approves ministerial candidates, and appoints the commander in chief of the armed forces--with legislative confirmation. The president resolves basic foreign policy issues and can confer military and diplomatic ranks, appoint diplomats without legislative approval, and issue decrees subject to the legislature's right to later overturn a decree by legislative action.

Finally, the president has considerable powers to influence the judicial branch. The president has the right to nominate (and the Seimas to approve the nomination of) three justices to the Constitutional Court and all justices to the Supreme Court. The president also appoints, with legislative approval, judges of the Court of Appeals. However, legislative confirmation is not required for the appointment or transfer of judges in local, district, and special courts.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The Lithuanian judiciary is composed of the Supreme Court and subordinate courts (the Court of Appeals, district courts, and local courts), as well as the Constitutional Court, which decides on the constitutionality of acts of the Seimas, the president, and the government. The Office of the Procurator General is an autonomous institution of the judiciary. Creation of special courts, such as administrative or family courts, is allowed, although establishing courts with "special powers" is forbidden in peacetime. The Lithuanian legal system is based on civil law.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Legal Profession

Law Schools

All the above are public (state owned) institutions.

All three basic models of legal education are represented in Lithuania.

First and foremost, Vytautas Magnus University, often called the country's most western university (two of three university Rectors have been U.S. citizens and the present Dean of the law school was also born in America), has a law school which is based on the American model: it is a three year program admission to which is conditioned upon the completion of a non-law bachelors degree. Many of the lecturers at this university law school are Americans or English, and a very high proficiency in the English language is a prerequisite for graduation.

Secondly, the former Police Academy, now the Law University, offers a bachelors degree in law, and a two year masters program for those who have a bachelors degree in law. There is also a non-lecture based "self-study" program leading to a bachelors degree in law; this type of self-study program, called "neakivaizdines," was very popular in Soviet times; the student receives written self-study material and there is usually a period of face-to-face "consultation" between the students and the teacher.

The Law University also offers a three year post non-law bachelors degree program in Law and Public Administration. Thus, there are two models of legal education at the Law University: an all-graduate, three year program, as well as a traditional European program featuring a bachelors degree in law, which can be followed by a masters. One might add the "self-study" program as a third, although it leads to the same degree as does the bachelors program.

The third model is that which had been the rule in the Soviet Union and is still used in some neighoring countries, such as Poland (Gdansk) and Russia (Moscow): that of the five year "unified" degree. This degree combines in one unified program of study both primary (bachelors) and secondary (masters) studies (see article 2, section 26 of the Law on Higher [post high school] Education). Thus, completion of this program entitles one to obtain what is called a "teisininko profesininis kvalifikacinis laipsnis," (a "lawyer's professional qualification degree") (see art.2 section 18, Law on Higher Education; also Article 7 section 2, Law on Advocates). This degree is offered by the University of Vilnius. The University of Vilnius also has a non-lecture based, "self-study" program leading to the same degree.

Any of these degrees will allow one to practice law as in-house counsel even before graduation: this type of person is called a "jurist." Jurists are not members of the bar.

Any of these degrees will also satisfy the educational requirements for entry to the bar. Admission to the bar is contingent upon five or more years of experience as a jurist or various similar periods of apprenticeship. By law, admission to the bar is contingent upon passing an examination on ten subjects, however, this examination is still oral and beset with all the problems inherent therein. Again, any of these degrees, plus a certain amount of experience and the passing of an examination, will qualify one for a judgeship.

New College

Kaunas College is a well-run institution, created on September 1, 2000 by a merger of two other colleges. It has a law program completion of which earns one a "college," as opposed to a "university," "professional" degree; it is difficult to explain the difference to an American audience other than to say that while the degree is a "college" degree, entry to some professions may be limited to those with "university degrees" and there may be other differences, dependent upon the situation and upon the evolution of the new colleges being created.

At any rate, Kaunas College has a well-defined mission: to prepare what Americans might call paralegals: "Having acquired a diploma the future lawyer is qualified to take positions of court secretaries, court office manager, bailiff, investigation inspector, inspector of social care and legal adviser.[sic.]"

That said, however, nothing in the law in Lithuania prevents a Kaunas College graduate to act as in-house counsel (as a "jurist") since, as stated above, one does not have to pass any exam nor to have any particular educational qualification to be in-house counsel.

Tadas Klimas
JURIST Lithuania Correspondent
Vytautas Magnus University School of Law

Correspondents' Reports

JURIST's Lithuania Correspondent is Tadas Klimas, Dean, Vytautas Magnus University School of Law, Kaunas.

Tadas Klimas
Dean, Vytautas Magnus University School of Law, Kaunas