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Establishment of the Chamber of Appeal


A glimpse of the history: the establishment of the uniform court of appellate instance 


On 16 February 1918 the Council of Lithuania unanimously decided to apply to the governments of Russia, Germany and other states, stating that ‘there shall be restored the sovereign state of Lithuania, regulated by principles of democracy with the capital in Vilnius, and separated from all state ties with the other nations’.


This act has become the foundation for the development of the state of Lithuania and for the new Judiciary of Lithuania. The latter one was legalized by the first law, passed by the Council of Lithuania on 28 November 1918 straight away after the fundamental laws of the Provisional Constitution had been adopted. It was called the Provisional Lithuanian Law on Courts and Organization of their Activity. The law provided for a three level system of general courts. Courts of peace formed the lowest level of the judicial system, regional courts formed the second level and the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania was the supreme judicial instance.


However, the established judicial system did not seem to be irreproachable. Originally, there were two regional courts established (in Kaunas and Marijampolė), while the third one (in Vilnius), established in 1920, never began to function. The Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania, as the court of cassation, was set up only in 1921 and just to deal with the cases which had been heard by the courts of peace. At the same time the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania was considered to be the court of appeal in the cases which were heard by regional courts as the courts of the first instance. Therefore, the cases related to major crimes or more complicated civil claims could be heard in two instances, while the cases of less significance which were heard by the courts of peace as the courts of the first instance could be heard in three instances.


One of the most famous lawyers in interwar Lithuania, Jurgis Byla (the judge of the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania) wrote that such imperfection of the organization of the judiciary established conditions under which the effective law regulating the activity of the judiciary had to be changed. Since 1924 there were several drafts of the Laws on the Judiciary prepared. In July 1933 there was a new Law on the Judiciary enacted which is currently considered to be the high-level legal act in the full sense of the content and form. The fundamental provisions of the above mentioned law that are still relevant nowadays became the basis for the Law on Courts of the Republic of Lithuania which was enacted in 1992.


In 1933 the new Law on the Judiciary was passed which established a new four level system of general courts: district courts, regional courts, the Chamber of Appeal and the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania. One of the most important novelties of this law is considered the establishment of the uniform court of appellate instance – the Chamber of Appeal in Lithuania.


Having purely institutional point of view in mind, the existing system of general courts nowadays is the same as it was in interwar Lithuania in 1933-1940. As we shall see later, the competence of the Chamber of Appeal not only reinforces but also confirms such a conclusion. Therefore, the establishment of the Court of Appeal of Lithuania on 1 January 1995 is considered as the renewal of the uniform court of appellate instance – the Chamber of Appeal.


Formation and composition of the Chamber of Appeal

 

15 September 1933 marks the establishment of the Chamber of Appeal when the new Law on the Judiciary came into force and the Chamber of Appeal began to function de facto.


The Law on the Judiciary provided that the seat of the Chamber of Appeal shall be in the capital of the state. However, Article 418 of the above mentioned law maintained that unless the Chamber of Appeal and the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania were moved to Vilnius, their seats would remain in Kaunas. Therefore, initially the Chamber of Appeal took up its residence at the house located in E. Ožeškienės street in Kaunas and it functioned there till 25 August 1940, when the Soviet occupation regime abolished it.


Article 8 of the new Law on the Judiciary provided that ‘the Chamber of Appeal comprises the chairman and other judges’. In compliance with the provisions of the chapter ‘Appointment of judges’ of the above mentioned law, in interwar Lithuania only citizens of the Republic of Lithuania no younger than 25 years and having a university degree in law could become judges. Besides, they had to pass the judicial examination and be in a judicial candidate service for at least one year. A person who had worked as a judge of the district court at least for three years could become a judge of the regional court. A person who had worked as a judge of the regional court at least for six years could become a judge of the Chamber of Appeal, and a person who had worked as a judge of the regional court at least for nine years could become the chairman of the Chamber of Appeal.


All the judges of the courts were appointed by the President of the Republic after the Minister of Justice had introduced the list of candidates. The list of candidates to judicial vacancies of the Chamber of Appeal was compiled in the general meeting of the Chamber of Appeal. This list was used to be compiled in April every year and to be submitted to the Minister of Justice who as well had a right to enter a person that was not introduced in the list of candidates.


As it has already been mentioned, the Law on the Judiciary (announced on 11 July 1933 in ‘Government Gazette’) provided that the Chamber of Appeal comprised the chairman and other judges. A specific list of the judges and positions of the Chamber of Appeal, according to which the Chamber of Appeal comprised the chairman, five judges and thirteen employees of the office of the court, had been established one month before the law came into effect.


Directly after the announcement of the mentioned list of the staff of the Chamber of Appeal, the President of the Republic appointed Jonas Gudauskis (order No. 651) as the chairman of the Chamber of Appeal and five judges: Mykolas Mataitis (order No. 689), Mečislovas Rašinskas (order No. 690), Sergėjus Dorošukas (order No. 792), Silvesteris Leonas (order No. 798) and Eduardas Balbachas (order No. 885). The first chairman of the court and the judges took office on 15 September 1933 (Eduardas Balbachas took office on 18 September 1933).


However, on 8 February 1934 the above mentioned list of the staff of the Chamber of Appeal was enlarged. Therefore, from 1 March 1934 new judges, appointed by the President of the Republic took the judicial office in the Chamber of Appeal: Saliamonas Baltūsis (order No. 165), Kazys Kazlauskas (order No. 166), Simanas Žilinskas (order No. 167).


In 1934 almost all judicial posts in the Chamber of Appeal were settled. In the Chamber of Appeal there were 21 court employees working, of whom 18 were men and 3 women.


There were no more considerable changes in the composition of the Chamber of Appeal till 1939. However, the court employees’ size categories were adjusted, a courier as a member of the court staff was added to the list. While evaluating the composition of the Chamber of Appeal essentially, only some of the changes of individual personalities can be mentioned.


On 16 June 1934 the President of the Republic appointed the judge of the Chamber of Appeal Silvesteris Leonas (order No. 497) as the chairman of the Military Court, therefore on 5 July 1934 Povilas Budrevičius (order No. 530) was appointed as the judge to the Chamber of Appeal.


On 1 October 1934 the President of the Republic appointed the judge of the Chamber of Appeal Simanas Žilinskas (order No. 719) as the chairman of the division of Kaunas Regional Court, therefore on 16 October 1934 Alfonsas Augustauskas-Bredikis (order No. 737) was appointed as the judge to the Chamber of Appeal.


On 1 November 1935 the President of the Republic appointed the judge of the Chamber of Appeal Mykolas Mataitis (order No. 1007) as the chairman of the division of Kaunas Regional Court, therefore on the same day Adolfas Ronkus (order No. 1008) was appointed as the judge to the Chamber of Appeal.


On 5 December 1938 the term in office for the President of the Republic Antanas Smetona was over. After the President of the Republic had been reelected for a second term, the Council of Ministers headed by Vladas Mironas resigned. On the same day the President of the Republic Antanas Smetona entitled Vladas Mironas to compose the Council of Ministers and approved its composition. The chairman of the Chamber of Appeal Jonas Gudauskis was appointed as the Minister of Justice. He served as the Minister of Justice until 28 March 1939 when Germany delivered an ultimatum due to the disposal of Klaipėda region. For this reason, when the crisis of the Government arose, the latter resigned. Since 29 March 1939 Jonas Gudauskis was once again appointed as the chairman of the Chamber of Appeal.


When the chairman of the Chamber of Appeal Jonas Gudauskis was appointed as the Minister of Justice, a judge of the Chamber Sergejus Dorošukas temporarily acted as the chairman of the Chamber of Appeal. It is assumed that such a situation when the Chamber of Appeal was left without the chairman and the office for the deputy chairman was not foreseen forced to review the composition of the Chamber of Appeal.


On 9 January 1939 Article 8 of the Law on the Judiciary issued on 11 July 1933 was amended and it was indicated that the Chamber of Appeal is not only composed of the chairman and other judges, but also a double who according to the seniority of judicial vacancies established in Article 132 of the Law on the Judiciary issued in 1933 was actually considered to be the deputy chairman of the Chamber of Appeal (the judicial office in the Chamber of Appeal corresponded to the position of the chairman of the division of a regional court, and the office of the chairman of the Chamber of Appeal corresponded to the position of the chairman of the division of the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania). On the same day in ‘Government Gazette’ the amendment of the list of positions was announced by the Ministry of Justice, adding the position of a double to the list of positions of the Chamber of Appeal (XIIIa category) and the position of a judge (XIa category).


Hereby, while Jonas Gudauskis acted as the Minister of Justice and the Chamber of Appeal was left without the chairman, on 10 January 1939 the judge of the Chamber of Appeal Sergejus Dorošukas was appointed as the double of the Chamber of Appeal (order No. 39) and the judge of Panevėžys Regional Court Vincas Šarka was appointed as the judge of the Chamber of Appeal (order No. 45).


Moreover, on 10 January 1939 the judge of the Chamber of Appeal Saliamonas Baltūsis was appointed as the judge of the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania by the President of the Republic (order No. 31), and Petras Niuneva was appointed as the judge of the Chamber of Appeal (order No. 32).


There were no more considerable changes in the composition of the Chamber of Appeal till June 1940. Perhaps foreseeing the threat to the Government of Lithuania due to the ultimatum delivered by Moscow on 14 June 1940, the judges of the Chamber of Appeal Sergėjus Dorošukas, Mečislovas Rašinskas, Eduardas Balbachas requested to dismiss from office. They were dismissed from their judicial offices on 5 July 1940, however, even worse fate befell the Chamber of Appeal.


On 3 August 1940 the Supreme Council passed the law by which Lithuania was officially annexed to the Soviet Union. The Constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of 1936 came into force in its territory. According to its provisions, the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Soviet Union of Lithuania, district and people’s courts had to administer justice in Lithuania. Thus, on 25 August 1940 the Supreme Council of the Republic of the Soviet Union of Lithuania established the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Soviet Union of Lithuania with completely new composition and abolished the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania and the Chamber of Appeal. On 16 October 1940 the Supreme Council adopted the provisional regulations of functioning of this court. It should be noted that till the end of the year 1940 all government institutions of the sovereign state of Lithuania were abolished and a model of the soviet power was provided, the soviet political system was introduced.


When the World War II broke out (hostilities between Germany and the Soviet Union) and Lithuania resisted against the soviet regime, on the grounds of the Lithuanian Constitution of 1938 there was restored the self-dependence of Lithuania and there was announced the composition of the new formed provisional Government. By the resolution of 2 July 1941 the Provisional Government abrogated the laws, passed during the years of occupation in Lithuania and restored the laws of the Republic of Lithuania which were in force till 15 June 1940. Soon after that there were restored the courts of Lithuania which had functioned earlier. The Chamber of Appeal began to function.


Lithuania of those days was not the sovereign state, therefore, the Chamber of Appeal was not the uniform court of appellate instance in the country.


According to the Law on the Judiciary issued in 1933 the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania was not reestablished. The Chamber of Appeal as a single court comprised the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania and the Chamber of Appeal. The judges (the total was 14) who worked in the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania and the Chamber of Appeal were appointed as judges of the Chamber of Appeal. The court itself consisted of two divisions – civil and criminal. Besides, there was a special division which comprised the chairman of the court and two judges from each civil and criminal divisions. The special division dealt with administrative cases and disciplinary proceedings of the attorneys. Therefore the cases (which had been tried in the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania before) were within the jurisdiction of the Chamber of Appeal and on the contrary the contemporary Chamber of Appeal was not the uniform court of appellate instance in the country. The Chamber of Appeal functioned till the year 1944 – the second occupation of the Soviet Union.


The judicial offices in the Chamber of Appeal in interwar Lithuania were very much respected and valued. This can be proved by the list of candidates to judicial vacancies, their selection and fluctuation. It can be noticed that the average salary with the extras for the flat, service category and children drawn by the judge of the Chamber of Appeal comprised about 1445 Lt (after tax 1070 Lt). In 1939 in Lithuania the average salary comprised about 131,04 Lt, and the salary higher than 300 Lt was attributed to the highest category of the salary by the historians (the rent of a single room flat cost 12,90 Lt; 1 kilo of meat cost from 0,74 Lt to 1,50 Lt, etc). Nowadays the average salary of the judge of the Court of Appeal of Lithuania with the extras for long service comprises 4 average wages.

 

Competence of the Chamber of Appeal in Lithuania

 

As it has already been mentioned, by the Law on the Judiciary of 11 July 1933 it was tried to establish a new uniform court of appellate instance in the judicial system of general competence. Article 18 of the above mentioned law provided that ‘the Chamber of Appeal shall be an appellate instance for the cases, decided in the first instance by regional courts’. Essentially the same provision has been established in Part 1 of Article 21 of the Law on Courts.


In compliance with the provisions of Article 20 valid till 15 September 1933 of the Provisional Law on the Judiciary issued on 16 January 1919, regional courts as courts of first instance used to decide the civil cases where the amount in controversy exceeded 5000 roubles (10000 marks). Later on all civil cases came within the jurisdiction solely of district courts. However, the Chamber of Appeal used temporarily to decide civil cases which were heard by regional courts. It should be noted that all civil cases which came within the jurisdiction solely of district courts were criticized in the legal literature of interwar Lithuania. In 1939 a famous attorney of interwar Lithuania Viktoras Fridšteinas proposed to amend Article 16 of the above mentioned law and he as well asked to establish that a regional court is considered to be a court of first instance due to: ‘a) the civil cases where the amount in controversy exceeds 10 000 Lt or the ones that cannot be rated, b) the cases related to the trade justice law […]’. If such a reform had been made, the civil division would have been established in the Chamber of Appeal and some judges from regional courts would have been transferred to the Chamber of Appeal. Despite the fact that the mentioned reform had not been made, the Chamber of Appeal used to decide the civil cases, and the course of cases has been indicated in the charts.


Regional courts as courts of first instance used to decide criminal cases on the crimes for which there was prescribed punishment – hard labour prison, with the exception of the cases on crimes against the national security; also cases on the official criminal acts, done by the office and municipal employees, with the exception of the cases, being within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania (criminal cases on the official crimes, committed by the superior officers of the state (President of the Republic, Ministers). Therefore, the mentioned criminal cases heard by regional courts as courts of first instance under appellate procedure used to be decided by the Chamber of Appeal. However, the Chamber of Appeal was not exclusively the court of appellate instance (nor the Court of Appeal of Lithuania nowadays is). Article 19 of the Law on the Judiciary of 11 July 1933 provided that ‘the Chamber of Appeal shall be the court for the criminal cases on the criminal acts, committed in the state territory or abroad against the national security’. Besides, in accordance with the provisions of Article 20, ‘the Chamber of Appeal shall be competent to decide the cases, ‘[...] prescribed by other laws’.


In interwar Lithuania the laws of civil and criminal procedures of Tsarist Russia of 1864 were in force, which were many times amended taking the particularity of legal system of interwar Lithuania into account.


Article 277 of the law of criminal procedures regulated the order of termination of interrogation and investigation. The prosecutor had to write a resolution, which could be appealed by the injured party within two weeks since the acceptance of the application of the resolution to the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania (since 15 September 1933 to the Chamber of Appeal). Such appeals were decided in the regulative sitting. Besides, the Chamber of Appeal dealt with the complaints due to the conclusions of the termination of accused harassment provided by the prosecutors or regional courts. The injured party availed himself of a right to appeal to the Chamber of Appeal against the decision taken by the regional court within a month since its announcement.


In compliance with Article 1331 of the law of civil procedures, the Chamber of Appeal was as well considered to be as ‘the instance allowing to sue the judges, prosecutors and other court officials for damages regarding their illegal actions’.


Information updated by: Kristina Petrošienė
Updated on: 2012-03-02 14:17

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