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Basic Facts about the Country

Membership of the European Union

1 May 2004

Membership of the Council of Europe

14 May 1993

Entry into force of the European Convention on Human Rights

16 April 1996

Basic Facts about the Judiciary

Budget per inhabitant

Number of professional judges per 100,000 inhabitants


Tiers in the ordinary court system


County Courts (first instance)


Administrative Courts (first instance)


Circuit Courts (appeals courts)


Supreme Court (cassation)


Constitutional Court


  • The Supreme Court is the Court of Cassation and also the court of constitutional review. Its Constitutional Review Chamber can carry out ex post constitutional review, including, under certain conditions, based on a constitutional complaint. 

Public Prosecutor

  • The Prosecutor’s Office is a government agency under the Ministry of Justice, which is independent in the performance of its duties. 
  • The Office is managed by the prosecutor general, particularly as regards the appointment and careers of prosecutors.     

Gender breakdown of judges

All instances


Supreme court

View source

Judicial Governance

Type of governance system

Judicial council model - Weak

Council of Administration of courts

  • The body advising the minister of justice 
  • The chair of the Council is the Supreme Court chief justice. 

Supreme Court

  • Nineteen judges overall, including those in the Constitutional Review Chamber 
  • Supreme Court judges are appointed by the Riigikogu (the parliament), on the proposal of the Supreme Court chief justice. 
  • The Supreme Court president is appointed by the parliament, on the proposal of the president of the republic. 
  • In contrast to lower courts, the Supreme Court has a separate budget and structure. Decisions concerning the administration of justice are made by the full court of 19 judges. It is convened and chaired by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. 


Disciplinary Chamber

  • Consists of five justices of the Supreme Court, five circuit court judges and five judges of the courts of the first instance 

The Council for Administration of Courts

  • A non-permanent body that has four regular sessions annually, as well as extraordinary sessions whenever needed 
  • The chair of the Council is the Supreme Court chief justice. 
  • The majority of members consists of judges. 

Court presidents

  • The chairman of a county, administrative, and appeal court is appointed from among the judges of that court for five years.  
  • Chairpersons are elected from among the same court’s judges. There is a draft law, however, that would open the position to all judges of that instance and, for the position of the first-degree court president, to all appellate court judges as well. 
  • No limitations on the number of times a judge can hold the court president mandate 
  • The chief justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the parliament, on the proposal of the president of the republic, for nine years. 

Distribution of Responsibility

Ministry of Justice
  • Governs county, administrative and circuit courts (courts of the first instance and appeal). The minister is advised by the Council of Administration of Courts. 
  • Appoints court presidents after having heard the opinions of the full court and with the consent of the Council of Administration of Courts. The opinion of the full court is not binding, while the approval is binding to the Minister of Justice.   
Council of Administration of Courts
  • The Council has powers, among others, related to the judicial map and the resources of the judiciary, and participates in the discussion on the administration of the courts. 
  • The appointments of court presidents by the minister have to receive the consent of the Council. 
Supreme Court
  • Some tasks concerning the entire court system are within its jurisdiction, including judicial selection and the organisation of judicial training. 
  • Judges of first and second instance courts are appointed by the president of the republic, on the proposal of the Supreme Court. 
Disciplinary Chamber
  • Adjudicates disciplinary matters for judges 
Court Presidents
  • May, by a directive, reduce their workload in administration of justice to the extent necessary for performing the duties of the chair 
  • Does not participate in judicial selection, unless chosen for the Judicial Examination Committee by a full court 
  • Involved in the recruitment of court staff 
  • Cannot assign cases. If a judge fails to perform a necessary procedural act, however, a court president can decide on the implementation of such measures that would allow finalising the proceedings within a reasonable time.  The court president may re-distribute court cases among the judges, taking into account the division of tasks plan and, exceptionally, deviating from it, taking into account case peculiarities, and judges’ specialisations and workloads. 
  • In the interests of the administration of justice, can appoint a judge to a permanent office to another courthouse of the same court, without their consent 
  • Within the same settlement, in the interests of the organisation of administration of justice, a chair of a court may appoint a judge to permanent office to another courthouse of the same court, without their consent. The chair of the court should first consider the opinion of the full court.  
  • Can commence disciplinary proceedings against judges (this varies, depending on the court. The Supreme Court chief justice can commence such proceedings against all judges).  


Transfer of judges without consent

The European Commission has pointed out that, while the legal framework for transfers of judges contains adequate safeguards, concerns remain that 2023 legislation could result in the de facto transfer of judges without their consent. In particular, the conversion of currently existing territorial divisions of courts into specialised civil and criminal departments, where a department would encompass several courthouses, implies that certain judges would have to travel on a daily basis between several courthouses to hear different cases of the same area of law. Consequently, a judge could be forced by the circumstances to relocate to another city in order to continue fulfilling their duties in instances where distances are too great and time-consuming to cover regularly. There have been concerns, therefore, that the new specialisation of departments could result in the de facto transfer of judges without their consent.  

Workload of judges

While Estonian judges rank highly in terms of their independence and lack of undue pressure on their work, caseloads continue to be an increasing problem in the country. Estonian judges have raised concerns about the impact of the increased complexity of cases and their number, coupled with an incoming “retirement wave”, and also the prospect of problems in filling vacant positions, on the efficiency of courtsin the country. 

Low salaries of judges/court staff/prosecutors

In September 2022, the Council for the Administration of Courts drew the government’s attention to the low salaries of court officials as a key reason behind qualified personnel leaving the courts and difficulties in recruitment. The Government reported to the European Commission a 15 per cent increase in the salaries of court staff. 

Barriers for access to courts

The low fees for state legal aid lawyers has led the diminishing interest in participating in the scheme, and the number of lawyers providing legal aid has shrunk considerably. While, in its decision of 7 November 2022, the Supreme Court found that the fee cap was not unconstitutional, it also suggested that the provision of state legal aid may not be sustainable at the current rates. This meant that the rights of those who need legal aid would be endangered. The Supreme Court noted that it was up to the parliament to decide whether the shortage of lawyers should be alleviated by increasing their fees or in some other way. Feedback on governmental efforts to increase the legal aid fees has been that it would not be enough to increase lawyers’ interest, and that a more comprehensive reform is needed. 

Positive Developments & Achievements

Civil society organisations have praised Estonia for the increased independence of the justice system. The survey of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary shows that Estonian judges consider the judiciary in Estonia to have a higher-than-average level of independence than in other European countries. 


According to the 2023 EU Justice Scoreboard, the length of proceedings continues to be among the shortest in the EU27. Overall, the advanced digitalisation of justice has allowed the courts to remain consistently efficient over recent years. Additionally, more judges have been appointed to alleviate the judicial workload. 

Rankings and Surveys

Expert Recommendations

European Commission, Rule of Law Report, 2023

No recommendations concerning the justice system 

GRECO, Fourth Evaluation Round, Second Compliance Report, Corruption Prevention, 2017

Adopted by GRECO at its 76th Plenary Meeting (Strasbourg, 19-23 June 2017)

Recommendation viii.
39. GRECO recommended that (i) decisions on appointment to the post of first and second instance court judge be subject to independent appeal procedure; and (ii) objective criteria for the professional advancement of judges be introduced with the aim of enhancing its uniformity, predictability and transparency [partly implemented] 

Recommendation xi.
45. GRECO recommended that additional measures be put in place to ensure an effective supervision of economic interests’ declarations filed by judges pursuant to the Anti-Corruption Act [implemented satisfactorily]

Recommendation xix.
53. GRECO recommended that dedicated and on-going training programmes, supported by relevant materials, for prosecutors be developed focusing on professional ethics, conflicts of interest (including recusal and withdrawal), rules concerning gifts, hospitality and other advantages, declarations of interests and other corruption awareness and prevention measures [implemented satisfactorily]

Liberties, chapter on Estonia

Key recommendations  

  • The Ministry of Justice, in cooperation with the Estonian Bar Association and other relevant stakeholders, needs to take urgent action to find a solution to the state legal aid crisis. 
  • The government should implement the recommendations of the Estonian Council for Administration of Courts to create more circuit court judge positions and increase court officials’ salaries

Compliance with European Courts' Judgements

Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)

State Performance


Number of unimplemented CJEU rulings related to the judiciary

European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)

State Performance

Very good

Implementation record


Number of leading judgments pending implementation Very Low

14 %

Percentage of leading judgements from the last 10 years still pending implementation Low



Average time leading judgments have been pending implementation Very Low
Non-Implementation of European Courts Judgments and the Rule of Law | EIN & DRI

Judgements with pending implementation

Selected on relevance to the judiciary / rule of law

Sargava v Estonia


This case concerns the lack of sufficient procedural safeguards to protect privileged data during the seizure and the subsequent examination of a lawyer’s laptop and mobile telephone in 2018 (violation of Article 8).

An action report was received on 2/01/2023.

Legislative amendments: Following this judgment, the Ministry of Justice prepared the possible legislative amendments and forwarded them to the interested groups, including the Estonian Bar Association and State Prosecutor’s Office, for perusal, analysis and feedback. After it has concluded the preparations, the draft law has to be approved by the Government and then it will be for the Estonian Parliament to adopt the amendments.

View case details

Application no. 698/19