I. Establishment, legal regulation of activity, composition and structure
The Supreme Court of Lithuania (the Court), founded on 15 June 1994 by the Law of the Republic of Lithuania ‘On the foundation of the Supreme Court of Lithuania, the Court of Appeal of Lithuania and regional courts, determination of the territory of jurisdiction of regional and district courts as well as on the reform of the Lithuanian Prosecutor’s Office’, began its activity on 1 January 1995.
The work of the Supreme Court is regulated by the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, the Law on Courts of the Republic of Lithuania, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCrP), the Code of Civil Procedure (CCiP), other legal acts of the Republic of Lithuania.
The Supreme Court of Lithuania is composed of 35 judges: President of the Supreme Court, Chairman of the Criminal Division, Chairman of the Civil Division, 16 judges of the Criminal Division and 16 judges of the Civil Division. Average age of the judges of the Supreme Court is 52 years. As many as ten judges of the Court are professors or associate professors of Vilnius University or Mykolas Riomeris University actively involved in developing legal doctrine of Lithuania.
In the performance of their functions, judges of the Court are assisted by public servants and other personnel of the Court: advisers to the President of the Court and the Chairmen of the Divisions, heads and consultants of the Department of Legal Research (the Department), assistants to judges, specialists of the General and Divisional Clerk’s Offices, Chancellor’s Service, IT Department, public servants and other personnel of other Court divisions.
Assistants to judges and consultants of the Department work in either Criminal Law Group or Private Law Group headed by Deputies of the Director with the relevant specialisation. In addition to the usual functions of legal research (to analyse the practice of Lithuanian courts of general jurisdiction in applying provisions of national, European Union or international laws, to prepare summaries of court practice on the interpretation and application of those provisions, to analyse jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights and other international courts, etc.), the Department is also directly responsible for rendering assistance in the administration of justice, i.e. preparation of cases for hearing and proposal of conclusions in the cases being heard, as well as the implementation of the strategy for public relations, assistance in maintaining international relations of the Court and relations with other courts of Lithuania, the academic community, State institutions. Other structural divisions of the Court perform their relevant important functions necessary to ensure performance of the everyday activity of the Court (manage human resources, plan financial and economic activity, perform public procurement services, ensure proper maintenance of the Court, etc.).
II. Competence and functions
The Supreme Court of Lithuania is the only court of cassation in the Republic of Lithuania for reviewing effective judgements, rulings, decisions and orders passed by courts of general competence. Under cassation procedure, the Court hears criminal cases on effective judgements and rulings passed at the first and appeal instances (CCrP, Art. 366) as well as civil cases on decisions and rulings in civil cases passed by courts of appeal instance (CCiP, 340(1)). Cassation is an extraordinary form of exercising supervision over the legitimacy of judicial decisions and it is applicable only in exceptional cases defined by the Codes of Criminal and Civil Procedure that establish the grounds for cassation (CCrP, Art. 369; CCiP, Art. 346). The issue of the acceptability of cassation appeals is decided by a selection panel of three judges (CCrP, Art. 372; CCiP, Art. 350).
Cases before the Supreme Court are normally heard by a panel of three judges. In the instances where a cassation case involves a complicated issue of interpretation or application of laws, the President of the Supreme Court, the Chairman of the relevant Division, or a panel of judges may forward the case to be heard by an extended panel of seven judges or by a plenary session of the relevant Division. In the instances provided for by law, a joint panel of judges of Criminal and Civil Divisions may be composed or a case may be heard before a plenary session of the Court (Law on Court, Art.30; CCrP, Articles 366 and 378; CCiP, Art. 357).
The Supreme Court hears cases exclusively on the questions of law.
The primary designation of the Supreme Court, as a court of cassation, is to ensure uniform court practice of courts of general jurisdiction in the State by means of precedents formulated in cassation rulings or by other forms provided by law.
In addition, the Court:
-In developing and ensuring uniform interpretation and application of laws in courts of general jurisdiction, analyses the court practice of national, European Union and international courts, other legal acts, prepares summaries of practice, surveys, publicises information about its activity;
-Issues the Bulletin of the Court ‘Teismų Praktika’ (Court Practice) to publish rulings of the Court, summaries and surveys of court practice, the publishing of which has been approved by the Criminal or Civil Divisions. The Bulletin may also include other information about the activity of the Court and any material of significance for ensuring uniform interpretation and application of law.
About the Bulletin: the Supreme Court develops uniform case law of courts of general jurisdiction by hearing cases. However, for consistent interpretation and application of law, other activities of the court are also important. The Law on Courts states that, in order to develop and ensure a uniform interpretation and application of law by the courts of general jurisdiction, the Supreme Court shall analyse the case law of national, EU and international courts, other sources of law, draw up summaries and overviews of case law, publish information about its activities. Each year the Supreme Court usually prepares two extensive overviews of the case law in a certain area from the domain of practice of the Civil Division and the Criminal Division. The Law on Courts also states that the Supreme Court shall publish the bulletin ‘Case Law’. The bulletin presents the relevant case law of the Supreme Court, summaries and overviews of the case law, the publication of which has been approved by the relevant division of the Supreme Court. The bulletin also offers thematic summaries of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Other information about the activities of the Supreme Court and the material relevant for ensuring uniform interpretation and application of law may also be published in the bulletin.
The bulletin “Teismų Praktika” (Case Law) is published in the Lithuanian language.
-Participates in deciding on issues of jurisdiction arising between administrative courts and courts of general jurisdiction in hearing civil cases;
-Participates in the procedure for the restoration of civil rights to persons repressed for resistance to occupational regimes; on the grounds and within the procedure established by a special law, issues certificates on the restoration of civil rights and hears appeals (petitions) concerning decisions to issue such certificates, or refusal thereof;
- In particular instances, submits comments and proposals concerning draft laws.
In 2010 the Supreme Court of Lithuania assumed a number of additional functions. As, due to amendments of the Code of Administrative Violations of the Republic of Lithuania, the Law on Courts and other laws effective from 1 January 2011, hearing of cases of administrative violations was transferred from administrative courts to courts of general jurisdiction, the Supreme Court became responsible for the formation of uniform court practice in this category of cases as well. This is performed by hearing requests for reopening of the procedure in completed cases of administrative violations (Law on Courts, Art.23(1)).
In addition, by the amendments to the Law on Courts effective from 31 December 2010, the legislator entrusted the Court with the function of supervising the administrative activity of courts. The President of the Supreme Court was assigned the function of supervising the activity of the Court of Appeal. Though such supervision entails inspection of organisational activity, it cannot interfere with the principle of judicial independence.
Allocation of cases in the Court is based on a computerised system. Cases to be heard by panels of judges are allocated by using a programme of the court information system LITEKO. Rules for the allocation of cases at the Supreme Court of Lithuania (in Lithuanian) (consolidated version) can be found here.
Cassation rulings in civil cases (since 1995) and criminal cases (since 2001) are published on the website of the Supreme Court of Lithuania, thus anyone interested is given an opportunity to get acquainted with the practice of cassation.
III. International relations and cooperation with other institutions
As a representative of the Court, the President of the Court is a member of the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the European Union (the Network). It is an Association of the Presidents of Supreme Courts of the European Union Member States, which was established in Paris on 10 March 2004. Presidents of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights are also invited to attend the General Assemblies and colloquiums of the Network.
As the members of the Network are Presidents of Supreme Courts, they represent their relevant Courts, thus, in essence, the Network unites not only the Presidents of Supreme Courts but also the Supreme Courts of the EU Member States as such.
The purpose of the Network is to promote exchanges of views and experience on matters concerning the case law, organisation and functioning of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the European Union in the performance of their judicial and/or advisory functions, particularly with regard to Community Law. The Network may initiate or promote publication, dissemination and translation of studies falling within its terms of reference. At least every second year, the Network organises colloquiums to consider matters falling within its terms of reference. The website of the Network http://www.network-presidents.eu publishes information about Supreme Courts of the EU Member States and their practice as well as reports and conclusions produced during its colloquiums.
The Supreme Court of Lithuania also maintains direct cooperation relations with judicial and research institutions of other EU Member States, including the Federal Court of Justice of Germany, the Supreme Courts of Poland, Latvia, Estonia, the Universities of Geneva and Amsterdam. The Court periodically organises and hosts round table discussions with foreign legal practitioners and academics on the most relevant issues of law.
The Court collaborates with Vilnius University, Mykolas Riomeris University, the Institute of Law of Lithuania and other Lithuanian research institutions in organising scientific conferences and discussions and issuing research publications.