Opinion digest: Higher salaries for prosecutors not attack on judiciary

The Justice Ministry has proposed to raise the pay of prosecutors to match that of the judges. Lawyer Jüri Leppik thinks that such a step would knock the system off balance, and represents nothing less than attack on the judiciary. Norman Aas, secretary general of the ministry and former chief state prosecutor, disagrees.

Norman Aas. Source: (Postimees/Scanpix)

The problem was that more and more cases were moved away from the judiciary, and that they were increasingly decided outside court. Society’s understanding already was that 90 percent of all cases were settled before they reached court, and the judiciary’s say in any of it had been reduced to a minimum, Leppik wrote in an opinion piece in daily Eesti Päevaleht.

The prosecutors were part of law enforcement, and with it part of the state’s executive power. With their increased meaning and increased pay, there was an attempt at setting them up as independent, and placing them at the same level—or in cases above—of those that eventually decided a case. This represented a danger to the separation of power.

Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice Norman Aas disagrees. “In Estonia as well as in other countries there has been the debate whether the prosecutor should be seen as part of the judiciary or the executive. Though the practice of countries differs here, there is the general tendency toward increasing the independence of the prosecutor’s office,” Aas wrote in an opinion piece in the same paper.

According to Aas, one of the aspects that backed a prosecutor’s independence was sufficient social guarantees, high pay among them. Proportionally salaries should correspond to those of judges and other high-ranking state officials, as this would help balance off the powers in the state, Aas wrote.

Prosecutors’ salaries needed to keep up with those of high-paid jurists, he added, and contribute to a lasting relationship of high quality with the office they served. The experience of plenty of countries had been that the judicial system profited if officials were able to rotate to different positions at the same level.

Judges and prosecutors’ salaries were already the same in plenty of countries, among them in Austria, Belgia, Bulgaria, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, and Italy, Aas pointed out.

A bill currently drafted by the Ministry of Justice calls for raising the salaries of district prosecutors that are part to court trials to the salary coefficient of judges at county and administrative courts, and to peg the salaries of chief and state prosecutors to those of judges at the district court level.

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