Executive summary

Like many OECD countries, Latvia is facing the growing complexity of criminality in a digital world, with increased risks of organised economic and financial crime, cybercrime and identity-related crime, among others. This trend is coupled with rising citizen expectations in terms of public service delivery, including justice services. Tackling such complicated types of crime constitutes a global challenge not unique to Latvia. It requires new thinking and innovation as well as more efficient and effective prosecution practices.

Latvia has developed a dynamic financial sector in the last few years, opening itself to more foreign customers and heightening the risk of economic and financial crime. Evidence of growing exposure to these crimes has emerged in several national and international studies. In addition, perceived corruption has led to a loss of public confidence in the civil service. Vulnerability to these types of crimes has been recognised as a threat to the national economy by the Latvian Parliament, which in 2019 embedded in the National Security Strategy the need to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement institutions, including prosecution services, to detect and investigate economic and financial crimes. The Prosecutor General Office’s operational Strategy 2017-2021 has also identified effective and high-quality performance as a priority to fight against economic and financial crime. The new Prosecutor General has highlighted that specialised training in these areas will be a prime concern during his mandate, which commenced in 2020.

This study seeks to benchmark the current practices of public prosecutions in Latvia against a selection of OECD member countries (Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal and Sweden), with a view of identifying recommendations that could support Latvia’s ongoing efforts to achieve more effective prosecution practices.

While current efforts are critical to strengthening the overall performance of the prosecution in Latvia, including in relation to economic and financial crimes, a number of challenges remain. These include the excessive length of pre-trial investigations and significant backlogs of cases not reaching the prosecution stage. For example, in 2019, 12% of the total of criminal proceedings in the records of the Economic Crime Combating Board of the State Police were sent for prosecution. This percentage has changed little in recent years, at 13% in 2018 and 10% in 2017. In Latvia, the average number of prosecutions per 100 thousand inhabitants per year is 0.66, compared to an average of 3.4 prosecutions across the membership of the Council of Europe. At the same time, the overall number of prosecutors in Latvia is among the highest in Europe.

In order to reap the full benefits of Latvia’s modernisation efforts in public prosecution, it is important to further strengthen accountability mechanisms, while fully respecting the independence of the Prosecutor General’s Office, which is part of the judiciary. Latvia has already taken significant steps in this regard by introducing an obligation of the Prosecutor General to report annually to Parliament on its office’s performance. In addition, in order to make the most of strategic planning, the Prosecutor General’s Office could focus more strongly on increasing the efficiency of work processes. Leveraging existing data and increasing collection of qualitative data on criminal cases to provide a nationwide picture of performance would help support a sound evidence-based management policy. On the other hand, there is scope to improve co-ordination between prosecutors and investigators and harmonise the understanding of the evidentiary threshold to be reached among prosecutors, investigators and judges. Mandatory training and specialisation would also close expertise gaps that affect Latvian prosecutors when prosecuting complex crimes.

Moreover, promoting increased use of the broad spectrum of procedural choices and the principle of opportunity offered by the criminal procedure framework could reduce the prosecutors’ workload, thereby reducing case backlogs and improving timeliness. It would also enable prosecutors to focus on more complex cases. More generally, stronger incentives could be introduced to attract and retain the best human talent in the investigation and prosecution professions.

Latvia’s efforts to enforce its Code of Ethics -- in particular, giving the Attestation Commission an accountability function and establishing a whistleblowing channel -- are positive steps toward controlling corruption. Nonetheless, further institutionalisation would help consolidate these efforts. Developing a comprehensive integrity and anticorruption strategy could support early identification of risks and mitigating measures.

Building on positive developments to date, Latvia’s future strategies should be underpinned by a clear and evidence-based understanding of the existing bottlenecks, challenges posed by modern types of crimes, and the impediments faced by the Prosecution’s personnel. Systemic abuse of otherwise legitimate economic and financial avenues can lead to breakdowns in citizens and investors’ trust, undermining investment flows and tax revenues and hence weakening the national economy and the public sector. Latvia should keep the improvement in prosecution performance at the heart of its justice reform strategy, including for inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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