6. Strengthening integrity policies and culture within the prosecution service of Latvia 

Although prosecution services have different roles in countries’ justice chain, the extensive responsibility, powers and discretion that they are commonly entrusted to expose them to a number of integrity and corruption risks. Considering that the decisions of prosecutors may affect personal, economic and political interests, especially when dealing with economic and financial cases, they may be offered bribes or other favours to interfere at various degrees throughout the criminal process. They may also be attempts of other entities or state’s powers to capture the leadership of prosecution services in order to unduly influence the implementation of the criminal justice policy. At the same time, entities in the prosecution services are subject to other integrity risks that common to any other public organisations such as opacity in the human resources management, conflict of interests in the procurement processes and weaknesses in the internal control policy.

Given these risks, ensuring integrity in the prosecution service is not only essential for ensuring the rule of law and fair trial rights but also for guaranteeing the independence of the prosecutorial decision-making power. Moreover, it ensures better performance in so far as it enables the efficient use of its resources and the quality of its work. On the contrary, the (perceived) misconducts of prosecutors, especially related to episodes of corruption, negatively affect the level of trust of citizens and businesses in the justice system and thus affect the social contract and the investment climate.

The risks of corruption in the court system of Latvia has been pointed out in Latvia’s AC strategy (KNAB, 2015[1]) that highlighted that they concern the actions of the judges, but also to those belonging to the judicial system and involved in the court proceedings. As a consequence it stressed the need to prevent the risk of corruption also among members of the judiciary, including prosecutors. In 2016, after a scandal involving prosecutors, the President of the Latvian Association of Prosecution had declared in a public interview that there are risk areas in the prosecution service such as the pressure caused by large loans. These risks reverberate in the citizens’ trust into the prosecution service and the judicial system more broadly. On the one hand, the latest data from the special Eurobarometer on corruption evidence that 19% of respondents think that corruption is widespread within the public prosecution service of Latvia, which is slightly higher than the EU27 average (17%) (European Commission, 2020[2]). On the other hand, a survey conducted by the Institute of Legal Research and the Center for Market and Public Opinion Research SKDS in December 2017 found that only 39% of the population fully trust or rather trust the Latvian judicial system, while 42% express the opinion that they do not trust the Latvian judicial system (KNAB, 2020[3]).

In Latvia Cabinet Regulation 630 of 2017 – which applies to judicial authorities in line with the specific nature of the functions and actions – establishes that public entities’ internal control system should count with the following requirements to address integrity risks:

  • create such a control environment in the institution that is intended towards prevention of corruption risks

  • identify, analyse and assess corruption risks

  • determine, introduce and implement corruption risk prevention measures

  • ensure circulation of information and communication regarding corruption risk prevention

  • ensure the education of employees regarding matters of corruption and conflict of interest

  • ensure the monitoring of the internal control system.

Although the Prosecution Office reported that it has gathered information concerning the implementation of the operational risk management and is currently developing an action plan to reduce such risks, interviews during fact-finding mission highlighted gaps in the implementation of such internal control model. As illustrated in the chapter, there are no measure to identify at-risk positions or areas, put in place mitigation measures and develop tailored training activities. In recognition of these gaps, the Prosecution Office recently informed the KNAB of its intention to establish a separate, internal unit within the PGO to take measures to fulfil Regulation 630.

The current chapter assesses the integrity system of the Latvian prosecution service in light of leading international standards (Box 6.1) and, in particular, the analytical framework of the OECD Recommendation on Public Integrity that provides countries and public entities with a strategy to develop a comprehensive and coherent public integrity system (OECD, 2017[4]). In particular, it focuses on the Latvian prosecution service’s institutional responsibilities on integrity, policies to create and promote a culture of public integrity as well as accountability mechanisms to integrity standards.

A public integrity system, whether at the country or organisational level, includes different actors with responsibilities for defining, supporting, controlling and enforcing public integrity. Within public organisations such as the prosecution service a number of key integrity roles should defined, together with the necessary resources and co-operation mechanisms between them. (Table 6.1)

In Latvia’s Prosecutor Office, some integrity-related roles are performed by the Prosecutor General Office’s Attestation Commission. Pursuant to the Prosecutor General´s General Order 109 of 17 January 2020 such Commission:

  • examines the materials of the inspection of the fact of a disciplinary violation and provide an opinion on the imposition of a disciplinary sanction

  • decides on the application of moral sanctions specified in the Code of Ethics of Prosecutors in cases where, while examining violations of the norms of the Code of Ethics of Prosecutors, no grounds for the imposition of disciplinary sanctions are established.

While the Attestation Commission is entrusted of a key role in ensuring accountability of disciplinary rules and violation of the Code of Ethics, there is no dedicated integrity function in the Latvian PGO with a focus on co-ordinating and mainstreaming integrity in the prosecutorial entities. The lack of such a role was also highlighted by the Latvian Association of Prosecutors, who called for the creation of an internal supervision department, whose task should be to prevent risks related to, for example, potential conflicts of interest, violations of ethical and moral norms and to promote the propriety of relations of a prosecutor as a public official proactively (State Audit Office of Latvia, 2020[10]). Indeed, the Latvia PGO could create an integrity office or appoint an integrity officer in charge of promoting and co-ordinating relevant initiatives as well as providing guidance, advice and awareness to prosecutors on integrity issues such as when faced with ethical dilemmas or concerns (e.g. conflict of interest situations, gifts, discretionary decision making). In doing that, it could consider the experience of the Integrity Office of the Netherlands’ Office of the Prosecutor, which is part of its broader integrity policy (Box 6.2).

As part of its efforts to define integrity roles and responsibilities with the prosecution service, the PGO of Latvia could develop a comprehensive internal integrity and anticorruption strategy identifying risks and mitigating measures together with corresponding roles and responsibilities as well as timelines to measure progress. This would not contribute to the implementation of the Guidelines for the Corruption Prevention and Combating (KNAB, 2015[1]) and Cabinet Regulation 630 of 2017 on public entities’ internal control system, but it would also allow to assign institutional responsibilities and to prioritise and sequence actions according to risks. At the same time, both the development process and the final document would also be a way of demonstrating integrity commitment and show progresses within the prosecution service and externally to other institutions and citizens. In this context, Latvia could consider the anti-corruption policy of the Czech Republic´s Prosecutor General Office, which – for each objective – defines actions, timelines and responsibilities.

The OECD defines public integrity as “the consistent alignment of, and adherence to, shared ethical values, principles and norms for upholding and prioritising the public interest over private interests in the public sector” (OECD, 2017[4]). While this implies doing the right things, doing things for the right reasons, and doing things the right way (Heywood et al., 2017[11]), in practice understanding what is meant by “right” requires clear standards clarifying which behaviours are expected of public officials, guiding them in ethical decision and shaping shared common values within the entity. For prosecutors, identifying ethical problems in their work and referring to clear principles to solve them is essential for the proper administration of justice and for the respect of the highest professional standards. (Consultative Council of European Prosecutors, n.d.[12]) In this context, integrity standards are commonly defined in codes of conduct and codes of ethics with the former clarifying expected standards and prohibited situations and the latter identifying the principles that guide behaviour and decision making. However, most national regulatory frameworks are situated between both instruments, which combine public service values with guidance on how to apply the expected standards and principles of conduct.

In the Latvian prosecutor service a Code of Ethics was adopted by the Council of the Prosecutor General in 1998 (Council of the Prosecutor General of Latvia, 1998[13]). It develops around a number of principles (independence, honesty, impartiality, fairness, confidentiality) and details expected behaviour with respect to professional growth, relationships outside work and mutual relations among prosecutors. Additional integrity standards are defined in the national law on conflict of interest (Saeima, 2003[14]) and the Law on Prosecution Office, which contains some specific rules on incompatibilities when the cases they deal with involve members of their families.1

While the Code is a key instrument to set the values and behaviours of Latvian prosecutors, interviews during the fact-finding evidenced that it is perceived as a formal document without any actual impact in guiding prosecutors’ behaviour. The Latvian PGO could therefore take initiatives to make it a “living instrument” in the organisation, for instance by complementing the Code with additional practical guidance and examples clarifying expected behaviour as provided for prosecutors in Czech Republic, Denmark and Finland. (Box 6.4)

At the same time, the PGO could promote a discussion on whether the Code - adopted in 1998 – still responds to the current context of the organisation and new ethical situations that may have appeared in prosecutor’s activities, e.g. linked to the use of technology. Such a discussion should be a participatory exercise for all prosecutors to bring forward their concerns based on their experience and to define the key common values defining the organisation, also taking into consideration relevant international standards. (Box 6.1).

In order to make integrity standards part of the organisational culture, additional activities are necessary to make them known, understood and visible in practice through raising awareness and training initiatives. These capacity-building activities should be integrated into the wider skills development framework of public officials. This also the case for prosecutors, whose education and training programmes – both before and after the appointment – should touch upon the principles and ethical duties of their offices. (Consultative Council of European Prosecutors, n.d.[12])

While Latvian prosecutors are offered some trainings or awareness-raising activities on prosecuting economic and financial crimes, including corruption (see Annex A), only a few activities are focused on illustrating and discussing integrity issues within the prosecution service such as on Code of Ethics or the management of possible conflict of interest situations. This is in line with the findings of the latest evaluation from the Council of Europe´s Group of States against Corruption, which reports an obligation for new prosecutors to follow training on deontology but no regular activities dealing with integrity-related issues targeting all prosecutors. (GRECO, 2019[18]) The PGO could therefore scale up its capacity-building efforts and organise mandatory integrity training activities both at the beginning of the career and on a regular basis in line with the practice of other public prosecutor services in OECD countries (Figure 6.1).

This was also stressed by the GRECO, which called for sustained efforts to ensure that training on integrity matters forms part of a regular rolling programme. (GRECO, 2019[18]) At the same time, these training efforts would contribute to one of the objectives of the national anticorruption strategy, which provided that additional, more tailored-made activities should be organised for prosecutors in at-risk positions, e.g. those with higher responsibilities or those involved in high-level financial and economic cases. (KNAB, 2015[1])

As for the methods, they could be traditional ones such as lectures, e-learning modules and (online) courses but also values-based activities focusing on developing attitudes and behaviours in response to potential integrity issues that will occur during the performance of duties such as discussion of case studies, simulation games, card or board games, and role-playing. The experience of Sweden’s prosecutor service provides an example of various methods to build capacity on its ethical standards such as traditional trainings and ethical discussion in dilemma or at-risk situations. (Box 6.5)

A holistic approach to public integrity includes measures aimed at fostering openness, in which public officials feel safe actively identifying, raising questions, concerns or ideas, and responding to potential violations of public integrity. This includes formal reporting mechanisms, such as whistleblowing and other internal disclosure policies, which enable employees to report misconduct through an official channel when the misconduct has already taken place.

Interviews during the fact-finding mission highlighted the lack of any mechanism or area within the prosecution service to discuss integrity-related questions or concerns, ethical dilemmas, and errors. However, in 2019 a whistleblowing channel has been set up by the Prosecutor General Office, allowing prosecutors to report possible violations that may harm the public interest and have been observed in the fulfilment of their duties. Procedures have been adopted for examining a whistle-blower’s report, including the identification of a contact person in the Persons and State Rights Protection Department of the PGO where to consult and with responsibility to deal with them, in line with the guidelines defined by the State Chancellery in co-operation with the Inter-Institutional Coordination Group for the Implementation of the Whistle-blowing Law. In particular, a prosecutor may submit a report:

  • by transmitting it electronically to an e-mail address created specifically for the receipt of whistle-blower's reports

  • by mail

  • in person.

The set-up of a whistleblowing channel and the appointment of contact person is a step forward in developing a culture of integrity in the Latvian prosecution service. From the set-up in 2019 to November 2020, the Prosecutor´s Office received and examined 66 whistleblowing reports, but only three related to prosecutors´ duties, and two of them led to disciplinary sanctions. According to the analysis of the PGO, all the other reports refer to decisions taken in accordance with the procedures specified in the Public Prosecutor's Office Law or the Criminal Procedure Law, so a campaign could be organised to clarify and raise awareness on the actual scope, purpose and functioning of this reporting mechanism. At the same time, the Latvia PGO could clarify or define channels for prosecutors to use in case of integrity questions or dilemmas. Based on the review of benchmarked countries, the following actors could be entrusted to provide these ‘safe environments’:

  • office of the Prosecutor General

  • immediate superiors

  • HR department

  • legal department

  • dedicated confidential integrity officers (Box 6.6).

An integrity system should also count on enforcement mechanisms ensuring compliance with rules and deter misconduct. Enforcement also promotes confidence among citizens that integrity standards are applied, strengthening their legitimacy and creating incentives and expectations for public officials to follow the values and desired behaviour. While there are various typologies of enforcement depending on the nature of rules, disciplinary enforcement is particularly relevant in the present context because it ensures adherence to and compliance with public integrity rules and values as defined in codes of conduct and codes of ethics.

The disciplinary liability of prosecutors in Latvia is provided for in the Office of the Prosecutor Law and a key role is played by the Attestation Commission, which provides opinions to the Prosecutor General on the imposition of disciplinary sanctions (reprimand, dismissal, salary reduction, demotion) based on the findings from inspections, and decides on the application of a number of other ‘moral’ sanctions specified in the Code of Ethics of Prosecutors (examination by the attestation commission; reprimand; a public apology; an information letter to all prosecution offices and structural entity). With regards to potential violations of the Code of Ethics, related applications or complaints are first examined by the head of the respective prosecution office or structural unit before reaching the Attestation Commission. (Council of the Prosecutor General of Latvia, 1998[13])

In the last three years, a total number of 30 disciplinary sanctions have been imposed, with only 4 in 2019. (Figure 6.2) Until June 2020, prosecutors enjoyed immunity for administrative liability, meaning that other administrative violations, including those related to integrity such breaches of the conflict of interest and asset declarations (Law on Prevention of Conflicts of Interest in the Activities of Public Officials), were also decided by the Attestation Commission. This was removed in June 2020 and, since then, competence for integrity-related administrative offences is of other Latvian institutions including the State Revenue Service and the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB).

The loss of administrative immunity may provide greater accountability towards the integrity framework. However, according to the information provided by the PGO, in the last three years no disciplinary proceedings were initiated due to violations of integrity-related regulations. While numbers of related disciplinary sanctions vary in benchmarked countries (Figure 6.3), its lack raises concern on capability of the disciplinary system to respond to integrity-related violations, especially those related to the Code of Ethics. This could be explained by the lack of guidance provided to those entities that are responsible for its enforcement. For example, the Code of Ethics foresees two potential typologies of sanctions, disciplinary or moral ones, but no clear criteria are established for their respective application in the Code itself or in the Regulation on the Attestation Commission of the Prosecution Office, which only mentions that moral sanctions are decided in cases where “no grounds for the imposition of disciplinary sanctions are established.” Given the key role of the head of prosecution offices or structural units as well as of the Attestation Commission to frame, examine and decide on applications or complaints related to the Code of Ethics, the PGO of Latvia could guide them in their enforcement activity of integrity standards. In particular, it could elaborate a compendium of relevant decisions from the Attestation Commission and national Courts to support the understanding of the scope, rationale and sanction of each obligation. These decisions – or a selection thereof – could also be included in the complementary guidance to the Code of Ethics for all prosecutors recommended earlier, as done by the Czech Republic in the Commentary to the Code of Ethics of Public Prosecutors. (Office of the Prosecutor General of Czech Republic, 2019[21]); (Box 6.7).

At the same time, in order to promote trust, awareness and deterrence of the disciplinary system, the Latvian Prosecutor Office could further expand the collection of the disciplinary data beyond the number of sanctions and raise their visibility by communicating some regular information about cases, breaches and sanctions both internally and with public as done by the prosecution service of the Netherlands. (Box 6.7). A higher quantity and quality of data would also enable the assessment of the effectiveness of disciplinary system and the identification of potential shortcomings to be addressed, such as the capacity to detect and examine potential misconducts. Making disciplinary data public would contribute to meet the Code of Ethics´ objective that the public is “confident that cases of Prosecutors’ non-compliance with the basic principles of their professional ethics will be examined and evaluated” (Council of the Prosecutor General of Latvia, 1998[13]). Similarly, one GRECO assessment highlighted the importance of publishing the types of offences or breaches committed together with any similar information on any criminal convictions in view of raising public awareness of the action that is taken. (GRECO, 2012[22])

References

[12] Consultative Council of European Prosecutors (n.d.), Opinion No.9 (2014) of the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on European norms and principles concerning prosecutors, https://rm.coe.int/168074738b (accessed on 18 September 2020).

[6] Council of Europe (2005), European Guidelines on Ethics and Conduct for Public Prosecutor, https://rm.coe.int/conference-of-prosecutors-general-of-europe-6th-session-organised-by-t/16807204b5 (accessed on 2 October 2020).

[13] Council of the Prosecutor General of Latvia (1998), Code of Ethics, https://rm.coe.int/code-of-ethics-prosecutors-of-latvia/168071cd94 (accessed on 18 September 2020).

[2] European Commission (2020), Special Eurobarometer 502 - Corruption Report, https://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinionmobile/index.cfm/Survey/getSurveyDetail/surveyKy/2247 (accessed on 18 September 2020).

[18] GRECO (2019), Second Compliance Report Latvia. Fourth Evaluation Round., http://www.coe.int/greco (accessed on 28 September 2020).

[20] GRECO (2013), Evaluation Report Netherlands. Fourth Evaluation Round., https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=09000016806c799a (accessed on 18 September 2020).

[19] GRECO (2013), Evaluation Report Sweden. Fourth Evaluation Round., https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=09000016806ca2c3 (accessed on 18 September 2020).

[22] GRECO (2012), Evaluation Report Latvia. Fourth Evaluation Round., https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=09000016806c6d36 (accessed on 28 September 2020).

[11] Heywood et al. (2017), “Integrity and Integrity Management in Public Life”, European Union, http://anticorrp.eu/publications/integrity-and-integrity-management-in-public-life/ (accessed on 24 September 2020).

[3] KNAB (2020), Interim evaluation of the implementation of the Guidelines for Prevention and Combating Corruption 2015-2020, http://tap.mk.gov.lv/lv/mk/tap/?pid=40483518 (accessed on 18 September 2020).

[1] KNAB (2015), Guidelines for the Corruption Prevention and Combating 2015-2020, https://www.knab.gov.lv/upload/eng/results/knab_pamatnostadnes_2015_2020_eng.pdf (accessed on 18 September 2020).

[9] OECD (2020), “OECD Public Integrity Handbook” OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/ https://doi.org/10.1787/ac8ed8e8-en. .

[4] OECD (2017), OECD Recommendation on Public Integrity, http://www.oecd.org/gov/ethics/Recommendation-Public-Integrity.pdf (accessed on 6 July 2017).

[8] OECD (2004), “OECD Guidelines for Managing Conflict of Interest in the Public Service”, in Managing Conflict of Interest in the Public Service: OECD Guidelines and Country Experiences, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264104938-2-en.

[21] Office of the Prosecutor General of Czech Republic (2019), Commentary of the Code of Ethics of Public Prosecutors, https://verejnazaloba.cz/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/EK_SZ-komentar-EN.pdf (accessed on 18 September 2020).

[15] Office of the Prosecutor General of Czech Republic (2017), Commentary of the Code of Ethics of Public Prosecutors, https://verejnazaloba.cz/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/EK_SZ-komentar-EN.pdf (accessed on 18 September 2020).

[16] Prosecution Service of Denmark (2015), Leaflet on good behavior in the prosecution, https://anklagemyndigheden.dk/sites/default/files/Documents/god-adfaerd-og-etik-i-anklagemyndigheden.pdf (accessed on 18 September 2020).

[17] Prosecution Service of Finland (n.d.), The Ethical Guidelines of the Finnish Prosecution Service, https://syyttajalaitos.fi/en/the-ethical-guidelines (accessed on 18 September 2020).

[14] Saeima (2003), Law on on Prevention of Conflict of Interest in Activities of Public Officials, https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/61913-on-prevention-of-conflict-of-interest-in-activities-of-public-officials (accessed on 18 September 2020).

[10] State Audit Office of Latvia (2020), Initial understanding of the State Audit Office: potential deficiencies of institutional management of the Prosecutor’s Office.

[7] UN (2003), United Nations Convention against Corruption, http://www.unodc.org/documents/treaties/UNCAC/Publications/Convention/08-50026_E.pdf.

[5] United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (2008), Strengthening the rule of law through improved integrity and capacity of prosecution services, https://www.unodc.org/documents/commissions/CCPCJ/Crime_Resolutions/2000-2009/2008/CCPCJ/Resolution_17-2.pdf (accessed on 2 October 2020).

Note

← 1. Article 8 of the Law on Prosecution Office (Rejection of Prosecutor):

(1) Prosecutor shall not participate in the hearing of case in the court or shall not examine any application, if in the said case the judge or the counsel for defence, or in the event of the application the person whose activities are examined by the Prosecutor, is the Prosecutor’s spouse, a relative of the Prosecutor or of his/her spouse in the direct line without any limitation of degree, but in the side-lines – a relation of the first three degrees or of the two degrees of in-law relations as well as in cases provided by the Law on Prevention of Interest Conflict in the Activities of State Officials. In the said cases the Prosecutor shall recuse him/herself.

(2) In the event of the Prosecutor’s failure to recuse him/herself, persons, whose rights or lawful interests may be affected, shall have the right to submit a rejection of the Prosecutor to a senior Prosecutor or court.

(3) The rejection of Prosecutor shall be examined in accordance with procedure prescribed by law.

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2021

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at http://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.