The State Audit Office has completed the most ambitious audit to date, which provides a comprehensive study of the effectiveness of investigations and trials of the criminal offences in the economic and financial area. During this audit, in cooperation with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the State Audit Office has assessed the activities of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Latvia (hereinafter referred to as the Prosecutor’s Office). The Prosecutor’s Office is a ‘key’ institution in applying the Criminal Law and the Criminal Procedure Law. The audit findings show that there are no obstacles in the laws and regulations to the effective operation of the Prosecutor’s Office. Still, one requires significant changes in the understanding of the independence of the Prosecutor’s Office and a modern approach to the implementation of management functions. This would increase both the capacity of the Prosecutor’s Office to perform its core functions and facilitate the efficient use of the resources at its disposal.
The Prosecutor’s Office is a single three-tier institution. The Prosecutor’s Office plays a central role in ensuring the rule of law, reducing the sense of irresponsibility and impunity in the country. Unfortunately, various assessments continue to confirm that there are shortcomings in the detection and investigation of serious criminal offences in Latvia. Efforts to reduce corruption may also have failed, as there has been no improvement in the Corruption Perceptions Index.
There is no reason to believe that there are too few prosecutors in Latvia
Following the 2017 audit of the State Audit Office on the effectiveness of the pre-trial investigation in the State Police regarding the enhancement of prosecutor’s role in the pre-trial criminal proceedings, there was an opinion expressed that the capacity of the Prosecutor’s Office might not be sufficient. However, statistics show that Latvia does not lag behind other countries in terms of resources. There are 23.5 prosecutors per 100 thousand population in Latvia; while this indicator is 12.1 in other countries. In addition, Latvia has a relatively large number of prosecutors in the highest-level structural unit (Office of Prosecutor General), which constitutes 8.1% of all prosecutors in other countries but constitutes 17.7% in Latvia. Thus, the state has allocated resources. However, Latvia has not been able to solve significant problems related to investigating crimes and the maintenance of state charges for a long time.
To find out why such problems arise, the State Audit Office has assessed in the audit how the work of the Prosecutor’s Office is organised, how the management functions of the institution are implemented, and how the risks of inefficient work are reduced. The State Audit Office paid particular attention to whether the regulation of the activities of the Prosecutor’s Office contains all the necessary preconditions provided for by the internationally recognised practices and recommendations on the prosecution service so that it can operate effectively in Latvia.
The institutional model and work organisation of the Prosecutor’s Office were assessed in cooperation with OECD experts who conducted a comparative study of the prosecution services of other countries and Latvia. The study was aimed at identifying best practices from other countries that might be useful for the Latvian situation.
The Prosecutor’s Office interprets the concept of its independence more broadly than international standards provide for
The audit concluded that the regulation of the Prosecutor’s Office Law contains the necessary standards for the independence of both the Prosecutor’s Office and prosecutors. At the same time, the State Audit Office analyses the guidelines of international organisations and examples of internationally recognised best practice on the interpretation of the concept of the independence of the prosecution service and prosecutors in the audit report. In this regard, the State Audit Office draws attention to the opinion of the Venice Commission, wherefrom it follows that even as a part of the judiciary, the Prosecutor’s Office is not a court. Its independence should not be understood as categorically as the independence of courts. The independence of prosecutors is not the same as that of judges.
The audit evidence shows that the concept of the independence of the Prosecutor’s Office and prosecutors is interpreted more broadly in Latvia than it follows from the recommendations and opinions of international institutions, that is, the independence of a prosecutor means not only the prohibition of external influence on the course of specific criminal proceedings and the decisions adopted within them but also independence is considered to be almost absolute in Latvia. In practice, this limits the possibility of holding the prosecution service accountable for its work, cooperation with public administrations in developing crime prevention and combating policies, and allows the Prosecutor’s Office not to be subject to the principles of good governance and efficiency applied to other public institutions.
“The interpretation of the notion of independence of the Prosecutor’s Office and a prosecutor used in the Prosecutor’s Office is one of the reasons for not applying the principles of good governance. To achieve positive change, the Prosecutor’s Office must change. For positive changes in the efficiency of pre-trial investigations, the “key” institutions of the system cannot be left out. Thus active engagement and participation of the Prosecutor’s Office in improving the efficiency of pre-trial criminal proceedings by undertaking the leading role in forging the law enforcement practices and in management and supervision of the investigators’ work, particularly in the event of complicated categories of criminal proceedings which affect the public interests much, are crucial,” stressed Auditor General Elita Krūmiņa.
The Prosecutor’s Office as an institution is not managed in the manner for it be capable of performing its functions efficiently and effectively
According to OECD experts, the understanding of the almost absolute independence of the Prosecutor’s Office has contributed to its isolation from the reforms implemented in the country to modernise and streamline the functioning of state institutions, including the Latvian judiciary. In its turn, the State Audit Office points to the most significant consequences that affect the efficiency of criminal proceedings negatively, which the long-term application of this understanding in the work organisation of the Prosecutor’s Office has possibly caused. At least some of the weaknesses identified in the audit confirm that assumption.
For example, although the Prosecutor’s Office develops a strategy and work plans, they are so general that they do not give an idea of the contribution of the Prosecutor’s Office in combating crimes nor one can use them to assess the effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office.
The Prosecutor’s Office has also not referred the provisions of the Law on the Structure of Public Administration to itself regarding the operation of a public institution under the principles of good governance, economy, and efficiency, as well as regarding the introduction, monitoring, and improvement of an internal control system. The State Audit Office outlines that the requirements of the said law regarding the management of the institution are also binding on the Prosecutor’s Office, as the Law also applies to institutions that are not subordinated to the Cabinet of Ministers unless otherwise provided by special legal provisions of other laws. The need to apply the principles of good governance and to create a controlled environment appropriate to the specific nature of the activity follows clearly from the transnational documents and internationally recognised practices as well.
The Prosecutor’s Office does not have a control environment and system in general that covers all the functions and operational processes of the Prosecutor’s Office, which complicates the performance of duties significantly. Other countries have standardised procedures or introduced even a quality management system for the prosecution. In its turn, in Latvia, there is no comprehensible and transparent division of the area of responsibility among the structural units of the Prosecutor’s Office and prosecutors stipulated by the internationally recognised practice of the prosecution services. The internal regulations of the Prosecutor’s Office do not define the jurisdiction of the structural units of the Prosecutor’s Office for the supervision of pre-trial investigation, as well as the institute of a senior prosecutor operates untraceable, which poses a risk of adequate separation of supervisory duties resulting from the Criminal Procedure Law from administrative functions of a senior prosecutor.
Concerning the performance of the core functions of the Prosecutor’s Office in criminal justice and beyond, there is even no risk assessment carried out. This has not been done even in crucial areas such as integrity, corruption, and conflict of interest in prosecutors’ activities. However, given the broad responsibilities, powers, and discretion of a prosecutor (for instance, to initiate prosecution or not), prosecutors might be exposed to integrity risks in particular.
In total, the State Audit Office has provided 20 recommendations to the Prosecutor’s Office for improving operational efficiency. The State Audit Office will address the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia, the Cabinet of Ministers, and the Crime Prevention Council regarding the opportunities to improve the laws and regulations on the activities of the Prosecutor’s Office.
The conclusions of the State Audit Office during the assessment of the performance of the Prosecutor’s Office are summarised in the audit report “Does the operation of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Latvia require any improvements”. In its turn, the OECD has prepared an independent assessment “Performance of the Prosecution Services in Latvia: A Comparative Study”, which can serve as an essential source of recommendations for further improvements together with the audit of the State Audit Office.