Foreword

By becoming member states of international organizations or acceding to international treaties, countries undertake extensive obligations in the sphere of human rights. Moreover - protection of human rights has come to be one of the fundamental principles of a state governed by the rule of law. This requires setting of this principle at the highest level – the Constitution. Today every constitution of democratic countries contains a longer or shorter catalogue of human rights.

In Latvia the idea of making the human rights catalogue part of the basic law was born back as long ago as 1922 together with the draft of the Satversme (Constitution of the Republic of Latvia). Unfortunately, it never materialized because the number of votes required for the adoption of Part II of the Satversme “The Basic Rules for the Rights and Obligations of the Citizen and a Person” was not collected in the Saeima (Parliament of the Republic of Latvia). After 4 May 1990 when the authority of the Satversme was re-established, the role of the national human rights catalogue was assigned to the Constitutional Law “Rights and Obligations of the Citizen and a Person”. Regrettably, for a number of reasons, one of which being lack of formal constitutional status, this constitutional law never proved to be effective. In February 1996 draft amendments to the Satversme were submitted to the Saeima and finally on 15 October 1998 the Saeima added Chapter 8 - “Fundamental Rights of the Individual” - to the existing seven chapters of the Satversme.

Chapter 8 of the Satverme came into force on 6 November 1998 implying that henceforth any decision taken in relation to an individual should be in conformity with the rights guaranteed by the Satversme. However, there is no perfect clarity as to the content of the rights provided for in the Satversme, therefore interpretation of legal norms becomes especially important. Here one should resort to international human rights standards and the practice of institutions applying them.
One of the international treaties that can be of considerable help to law scholars and practitioners in clarifying the content of human rights standards is, as pointed out by the authors of this publication, the European Convention on Human Rights. The latter was ratified by the Saeima on 4 June 1997. By applying human rights standards in their daily practice, the European Court of Human Rights and, formerly, also the European Commission of Human Rights, have created a good theoretical and practical basis for the Convention to become one of the most efficient tools of human rights protection in the whole world.

Therefore, besides articles devoted to analysis of the rights set forth in the Satversme in the light of the European Convention on Human Rights, this issue also contains a Constitutional Court judgment in which the Court, on the basis of case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, analyses conformity of the Latvian legal norm on coercive expropriation of property with Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention of Human Rights. Readers can also familiarize themselves with the judgment of the Supreme Court in which the Court - for the first time in its practice - applies Article 92 of the Satversme, containing the guarantees of the right to a fair trial. This issue also contains the first judgment in Latvian Legal history where crimes committed by occupying regimes, namely the part of Alfons Noviks, the head of Soviet repressive organs, in the genocide against the Latvian residents, are examined.

Supplementation of the Satversme with a chapter on fundamental rights is an outstanding event in the development of the Latvian legal system. Given the importance of the subject, readers are offered a yearbook amounting to four single issues of the Latvian Human Rights Quarterly. We hope that this compilation will give a good insight into the theory and practice of Latvian constitutional law for all those interested in these problems.

Editors