5. Focus on people: Towards improved performance of Latvian prosecutors

Sound management of human resources of the prosecution is critical to make a positive impact on the efficiency of the criminal prosecution system. The daily contribution of each individual prosecutor to the objectives of the system is an essential piece of the puzzle that must be given adequate weight and importance when attempting to achieve improved performance of prosecution systems as a whole. This chapter thus focuses on exploring key areas for analysis and improvement of individual performance in the prosecution services in Latvia.

Performance appraisal of individual prosecutors is a particularly important aspect of measurement of the quality of the prosecution system, and a key driver to improve or stall performance of individuals. Indeed, a large majority of the OECD benchmarked countries (80%) have developed a performance appraisal mechanism for individual prosecutors, including Latvia (see Figure 5.1).

In parallel, the United Nations Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors (n. 7) and the IAP Standards (n. 6e) both highlight the importance of appraisal being carried out “based on objective factors, in particular professional qualifications, ability, integrity and experience, and decided upon in accordance with fair and impartial procedures”. The Council of Europe, in its Recommendation (2000)19 on the role of public prosecution (point 5), similarly highlights that the careers of public prosecutors, their promotions and their mobility ought to be governed by known and objective criteria, such as competence and experience.

Such emphasis on professional qualifications and ability shifts the focus away from the idea that obtaining the highest rate of conviction should necessarily equal the best possible performance. There are times when an acquittal could be a just and proper verdict, and that must be taken into account when designing performance evaluation mechanisms. As such, individual evaluations should not be based on the idea of winning or losing cases. It should be recalled that a higher conviction rate can be secured simply by deciding not to prosecute the more difficult cases. Nevertheless, careful reviews of cases should take place where errors of judgement or law on the part of the prosecutor might be found and dealt with. Adequate criteria to assess them may include: whether the prosecutor applied the law correctly, whether he or she took into account all relevant factors and evidence and where applicable, applied any public interest criteria correctly. To that end, it is important that prosecutors record their decision-making considerations in a detailed manner.

Two obstacles can make the assessment and improvement of individual prosecutor performance difficult and must be taken into account when improving performance appraisal mechanisms. Firstly, the reduction of criminality depends on the smooth interaction of several factors integrating the national criminal justice system, which can only function co-ordinately: the legal framework, the individual judges and the judiciary, the investigative authorities (police and other criminal investigation bodies) and the capabilities and performance of the prosecutorial services. As such the ability of prosecutors to achieve outcomes also depends on the respective performance of those other actors. International co-operation is increasingly becoming a crucial factor too. Performance of the penitentiary service and the effectiveness of the diversionary mechanisms that could be available as alternatives to prosecution also play an important role in keeping the criminality under control. In this vein, recommendation (2000)19 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe of 6 October 2000 recognised that the public prosecutor does not work in isolation, but is strongly dependent on other main factors intervening in the development of the criminal justice system of a country. Due to this circumstance, the adoption of a whole-of-justice chain approach to improvement of performance will be recommended throughout this report.

The second roadblock is that, in most criminal justice systems around the world, prosecutors are part of a hierarchised structure and follow explicit guidance in crucial areas of the job, enforced by regular internal review and accounting to parliaments or governments. Internal accountability mechanisms intend to keep prosecutors in line with the rule of law and to foster good individual performance. Therefore, holding prosecutors accountable for their performance in many of the benchmark countries depends on standardised internal forms of control that together promote the performance expected from individual prosecutors. Legal frameworks often aim to establish the constraints of an individual prosecutor’s choices by a) prosecutors’ expertise acquired through professional training and experience, b) procedural regularity defined through guidelines, and c) regular internal reviews. The above-mentioned Recommendation signalled that “with a view to promoting fairness, consistency and efficiency in public prosecution, the member states should seek to:

  • consider hierarchical methods of organisation, without however letting such organisational methods lead to ineffective or obstructive bureaucratic structures

  • define general guidelines for the implementation of criminal policy

  • define general principles and criteria to be used by way of references against which decisions in individual cases should be taken, in order to guard against arbitrary decision making.

Finally, in relation to the mechanism that ought to be used in assessing individual performance of prosecutors, the Venice Commission has recommended in several of its opinions that, to comply with the need for objective transparency in the promotion process, the assessment of suitability could be made by an appropriate board or similar structure and should not be left to the sole discretion of a supervisor. At the same time, a majority of the benchmarked countries rely on the opinion of hierarchical superiors as part of the evaluation of prosecutors, although this is often taken into account in conjunction with other factors.

In Latvia, assessment of individual prosecutor performance is carried out “at least every five years”. The way in which they are carried out are set out in the Regulation on the Assessment of the Professional Activity of Prosecutors, approved by Prosecutor General’s Order No.110 of 10.02.2020 (Decision No.5 of the Council of Prosecutor General). According to the Regulation, an Attestation Commission is responsible for evaluating the work of the prosecutors who are selected for assessment on a given year, based on a series of documents submitted on the work of such prosecutors.

With slight variations depending on the rank and office of the prosecutor, the Commission generally relies on the following documents:

  • filled in Statistical Indicators of the Work of a Prosecutor form

  • filled in Results of the Examination of the Work of a Prosecutor form

  • filled in Results of Quality Control of Decisions on Holding a Person Criminally Liable (Accusation) form

  • opinion of the Chief Prosecutor (or the concerned hierarchical superior).

This information is gathered in the ProIS system in an online format. The Regulation sets out in detail the content of each form, the staff responsible for filling in each of the forms and the ways to verify the information. All such practices can be considered positive and provide a wealth of information about the prosecutor’s work on a given period. The designated supervising prosecutor provides the Attestation Commission with a substantial comparison of the statistical performance of the work between the prosecutor being evaluated and those prosecutors who have performed the same or similar functions of the prosecutor in the relevant department of the public prosecutor’s office in previous years (as established in the Regulation’s Annex 12). The level of use of the available simplified procedures are among this analysis, so the Commission can see what is the degree of implementation of those procedures for a specific prosecutor in comparison to the average use across the Latvian system, taking into account the three years prior.

Despite the possibility to carry out that relevant comparative analysis, the Regulation does not specify how the information on the forms will be interpreted by the Attestation Commission by itself, or in other words, what is considered to be good or bad performance in relation to the above forms. The following is stated:

“56. (…) the Attestation Commission of the Prosecution Office shall analyse the quality of performance of the functions of the prosecutor, the organisation of individual work, participation in qualification improvement activities, statistical indicators of work, as well as other criteria provided for in this Regulation.

57. The Attestation Commission of the Prosecution Office shall provide a positive or negative opinion regarding the professional activity of the Prosecutor Subject to Assessment. In the opinion, the Attestation Commission of the Prosecution Office may determine or recommend specific tasks that the Prosecutor Subject to Assessment must perform within the time period specified by the Attestation Commission of the Prosecution Office for the elimination of established deficiencies or promotion of his or her professional development.” (paras. 56-57, Regulation on the Assessment of the Professional Activity of Prosecutors. Emphasis is ours).

This lack of explicit criteria in the Regulation to explain what may sustain a positive or negative opinion has a significant relevance, as it creates a loophole in the otherwise comprehensive regulation to assess individual performance that may be hindering the prosecution’s activity overall in Latvia. As a result, the quality of performance when holding charges in court is mostly measured on whether a case has been won or lost1. A good practice in this case would be to include a “positive and negative points” system, at least, in comparison to the system that is established to measure performance of the overall district prosecution offices. It has emerged throughout the interviews with different stakeholders that promotion is notionally based on positive performance appraisal. Such appraisal, as observed, factors in the quality in maintaining state charges in court during the last five years (which is the performance appraisal period). Because of the way in which the performance appraisal is carried out, prosecutors only write the arraignment and lodge the indictment in court if they feel that the case is 100% winnable. This may in turn explain the low ratio of prosecuted cases compared with the much higher number of investigations undertaken. There is scope to strengthen the alignment of this practice with key international standards. As indicated by the UNODC/IAP Guide, the idea of “winning or losing” a criminal case if the case was decided fairly on its merits should not be a deciding factor in assessing a prosecutor’s performance or lack thereof.

Finally, it must be brought to the forefront that the regularity of performance appraisals in Latvia seems to be less than observed in its benchmarked counterparts. Below is a table comparing the timings in several selected OECD countries, including Latvia (see Table 5.1).

The large spans of time that may pass without a prosecutor being evaluated on his individual performance may reduce the effectiveness of intervention once a negative performance is discovered, and has the potential to hinder the prosecution of cases by certain prosecutors for years.

The nature of crimes and the methods by which crime is committed are constantly evolving, with criminals taking advantage of technological advances and evolving geopolitical affairs. Many criminal groups develop a level of sophistication and co-ordination that entail genuine challenges to investigate and prosecute offenses. The applicable regulations required to combat these types of crimes are often also very complex, so that prosecutors require specialist knowledge and experience. As highlighted by the UNODC-IAP Guide, there are also more traditional kinds of crime, such as child sexual assault and sexual assault in general, civil rights abuses, environmental crime, taxation fraud, election crimes and other types of crime, for which special skills and a multidisciplinary approach may be required to enable an effective prosecution (UNODC/IAP, 2014[1]).

In order to tackle the increasing complexity of such challenges, prosecution services often create specialised departments within their prosecution services that can focus on the investigation and prosecution of specific types of offences. Specialisation of prosecution services may also involve concentrating particular types of dangerous prosecutions in one office in order to ensure that prosecutors have physical protection and are free from external pressures (UNODC/IAP, 2014[1]).

In Latvia, there is no explicit specialisation of prosecutors, but specialised prosecutors can be established by Order of the Prosecutor General. Established through this method, at the moment there are five specialised Prosecutor’s Offices established in the Prosecutor’s Office, which include: the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office for organised crime and other sectors (Prosecutor’s Office of judicial region), and four district Prosecutor’s Offices such as the Specialised Multidisciplinary Prosecutor’s Office, the Prosecutor’s Office for investigating financial and economic crime, the Prosecutor’s Office for investigating crimes of illicit drug circulation, and the Riga Road Transport Prosecutor’s Office.

The prosecution for financial and economic crimes thus lies at the district level prosecution offices. They supervise the investigation of these crimes conducted by the relevant police force only within the boundaries of the district territory. The types of crimes the district supervises include tax evasion, booking counterfeits, fraud in paying salaries (salaries paid in dark), violations of copyrights, money laundering, violation of commercial secrets, selling of excise goods, unregistered business activities, insolvency, smuggling, customs violations, cash smuggling at the borders, etc.

Prosecutors in charge of supervising such investigations do not appear to require special skills, experience or knowledge, with the acquisition of necessary expertise on those crimes being expected to be achieved by in-service practising. There also seems no special selection procedure for them. Others come via promotion from other district prosecution offices, without significant selection process. As such, while specialisation of offices exists in Latvia, in line with international practices, there appear to be gaps in training for the prosecutors that need to deal with the most complex or rare types of crimes. Possibly due to this reason, it emerged throughout the interviews that the criminal justice machinery has difficulties in prosecuting complex, financial, corruption or cybercrimes. This may also be one of the causes leading prosecutors to be reluctant to lodge their cases in court unless they are entirely sure that the case can be won. This uneven of specialised training may possibly be undermining the ability to prosecute in the most effective manner.

Examples from the benchmarked countries on the specialisation of prosecutors could provide a useful basis for reflection in Latvia. For example, Box 5.1 describes the case of Finland, which has made specialisation a strategic priority. In Portugal, the specialisation and prioritisation have been given strategic importance since the reforms initiated in 2010 amidst the worst economic crisis in the modern history of the country. The criminal policy goals, priorities and guidelines for the biennium 2017-19 were established by Law no. 96/2017 of 23 August and strategic areas were defined by the Prosecutor General, focusing on the speediness of case treatment and the quality of the prosecutorial work. In the benchmarked systems, when asked whether prosecutors specialise in some aspects of criminality, 20% signalled that the law determines the degree and hierarchical level of specialisation, while in 60% of cases the specialisation is determined by the PGO.

Another example is the Special Financial Unit of Ireland, established in 2011 in response to the post-2008 Irish banking crisis. It operates within the Solicitors’ Division of the Director of Public Prosecution. It deals with large-scale financial or corporate cases. It works primarily with the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. The principal role of the unit is to consider and, if necessary, prosecute serious financial and corporate crimes including complex economic (comprising transnational) crimes; complex money-laundering cases (i.e. cases where money that is made from criminal dealings is passed through a business so that it appears to come from legitimate sources); financial crimes which have a significant impact on the public; serious regulatory and corporate criminal cases and all cases of foreign bribery.

In Sweden, there are several specialised public prosecution offices with nationwide responsibilities: the National Anti-Corruption Unit, the National Environmental Crimes Unit, the Prosecution Office for National Security, and the National Police-related Crime Office. In Italy, in all prosecution offices (except in prosecution offices staffed with less than 5 prosecutors) there are special groups of prosecutors specialised in investigating certain types of crimes. These include: corruption, economic and financial crimes (usury, false accounting, tax evasion, etc.), and offences against vulnerable groups (i.e. domestic violence, sexual abuse of children, exploitation of prostitution, breach of immigration law, etc.). For organised crime offences (mafia-related and similar offences), a specific specialisation is established by the law. There is a special District Anti-mafia Prosecution Office in each prosecution office located in the District regional capital. This specialisation gives positive results with respect to the number of cases dealt with and the speed of their settlement. This specialisation is balanced by the prohibition for a public prosecutor to stay on the same work group for more than ten years to open new possibilities for prosecutors wanting to diversify their expertise.

Appropriate training and specialisation are key tenets of the international standards for prosecutors. As outlined by the UNODC/IAP Guide, the increasing complexity of crime has required that new skills be acquired by prosecution services, which should begin in the induction phase and continue through the prosecutor’s career, enabling the prosecutor to take on cases that are more complicated and allowing for career advancement. Training should be understood as an investment by the prosecution service, and appropriate funds should be allocated to provide training to staff, which for optimal results could include also investigators and assistant prosecutors. According to the United Nations Guidelines (2b):

Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors

2. States shall ensure that:

(b) Prosecutors have appropriate education and training and should be made aware of the ideals and ethical duties of their office, of the constitutional and statutory protections for the rights of the suspect and the victim, and of human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized by national and international law. (United Nations, 1990[2])

In Latvia, certain training used to be provided by the Latvian Judicial Training Centre, which was attended on a voluntary basis by prosecutors. The Centre is a private foundation established in 1995. It receives funding directly from the court administration (which is subordinated to the Ministry of Justice) and from the European Social Fund and other international donors. Its main mandate is to provide training for judges and court staff; and it collaborates with other justice-related entities, such as the prosecution, on an ad hoc agreement basis (Latvian Judicial Training Centre, 2020[3]).

Since two years ago, the PGO created its own training department and limited its involvement with the Judicial Training Centre, mainly in two ways: on the one hand, it started delivering the training for newly appointed prosecutors internally, a function formerly carried out by the Centre. On the other, the Prosecution became a part of the European Judicial Training Network, limiting the amount of activities that required implementation in the Judicial Training Centre (Latvian Judicial Training Centre, 2020[3]).

Despite this, the Centre has maintained collaboration with the Prosecution in some ways. During the period between 2017 and 2021, the Centre is implementing training activities under the European Social Fund project “Justice for Growth”. Prosecutors are one of the main target audiences of the project. Training activities have included:

  • Quality of indictments, 3-day practical workshop for prosecutors.

  • Lecturers school, 6-day training for acting or future trainers.

  • Leadership skills training, 5-day practical training.

  • Interdisciplinary ethics training, 1-day interactive training intended for judges, prosecutors and lawyers to discuss issues of cross professional ethics.

  • Mediation and alternative dispute resolution training, various training activities.

  • Supervision, professional group session intended to reflect on challenges at work and learn among colleagues.

The Centre focuses its training delivery on quality of judgements and court procedures across different specialisations. Nonetheless, financial and economic crimes’ training is a part of the curricula. The Centre carries out training needs analyses only for judges, not for prosecutors. The Judicial Training Centre also delivers some training for investigators in co-operation with the State Police College called “Quality of procedural documents”. It consists of a 3-day training course on criminal evidence gathering (Latvian Judicial Training Centre, 2020[3]).

These are encouraging initiatives, but seem to be insufficient to provide prosecutors and investigators with the required standard of expertise to face highly specialised defence counsels effectively in tackling complex crimes. In particular, mandatory trainings targeted for prosecutors that include induction training, training throughout the prosecutorial career and specialised for highly complex crimes seem to be lacking in comparison with the rest of benchmarking countries analysed.

Local and regional prosecutors’ offices appear to face the highest workload and experience greatest gaps in lack of capacity/specialisation. To access a Judicial Regional Office as a prosecutor, a minimum of five-years’ experience as a district prosecutor is required, not necessarily on criminal prosecutorial work. Not all prosecutors work on criminal cases, but also on civil and administrative law cases, thus in reality not providing a useful specialisation experience.

Advanced training would be useful for Latvian prosecutors in subjects such as transnational crime, organised crime, cybercrime, money-laundering, international co-operation in criminal matters, forensic evidence such as DNA analysis and dealing with vulnerable victims and witnesses. It emerged throughout the interviews that an increase in informal co-operation and joint trainings between judges and prosecutors may provide prosecutors with more nuanced knowledge on how to prosecute certain crimes; and similarly, joint trainings among prosecutors and investigators could allow them to reach a common understanding on how to prosecute particular crimes, improving their co-ordination. The benchmarked OECD countries analysed as a part of this Study all place a strong strategic importance on training of prosecutors, and in eight out of the ten surveyed such training is mandatory. These encompass induction programs and training throughout prosecutors’ careers. Box 5.2 provides selected examples of induction training structures across the benchmarked countries.

In Finland, strategic importance is given to the training of prosecutors. At the National Prosecution Authority, the development of the employees' expertise is planned together with their supervisors. The supervisor guides and supports the development of expertise with a suitable distribution of work and other duties. New prosecutors are recruited to the junior prosecutor's temporary office for a period of six months, during which the prosecutor completes the Prosecutor's Start training programme, after which the junior prosecutor may apply to the office of District Prosecutor. Next come the studies of a multicompetent prosecutor, reinforcing competence in different areas. Later, a multicompetent prosecutor can specialise in various duties both in Finland and abroad. New secretaries begin building their competence with the Secretary's Start training programme that is an introduction to the duties and operations of the National Prosecution Authority, and the work of a secretary. Secretaries may also specialise – for example in the duties of a digital coach. After the Start, the development of the prosecutor's and the secretary's competence is planned according to the work duties and the competence needs they require. The development of the competence of experts in HR and financial administration as well as communications and training are supported with training provided by outside organisations (National Prosecution Authority of Finland, 2020[4]).

In France and Italy, training is also considered of strategic importance. A structured system of professional training is aimed at ensuring the quality of the judicial and prosecutorial performance. In France, since 2008, five days per year of judicial training has been compulsory in the ordinary judicial order. In the administrative judicial order, judicial training is not compulsory, but the Vice-President of the Council of State has set the target of each judge receiving at least three days of training per year. Training for members of the ordinary judicial order is provided by the National School for the Judiciary (Ecole Nationale de la Magistrature, ENM); each judge is required to attend one session at the ENM per year. Training for judges of the administrative order is provided by the Centre de formation de la juridiction administrative (CFAJ) of the Council of State. In Italy, the training of civil and commercial judges is within the remit of the Italian School for the Judiciary (Scuola Superiore della Magistratura, SSM) and the training of administrative judges within that of the Training and Research Department of Administrative Justice (Ufficio Studi della Giustizia Amministrativa, USGA). The SSM is a public foundation which is funded 97% by the State and 3% by EU grants. Continuous training is also organised at a decentralised level, in each court of appeal district, often in co-ordination with the SSM. All members of the judiciary are expected to follow continuous education programs both at national and district level.

In the Netherlands, training is given strategic importance. Training for prosecutors is mandatory first as an induction training at the beginning of the career and then the regular in-service training is provided, and participation is mandatory in training activities. Training needs analysis is carried out by each prosecutorial unit. Since its establishment in 1960, the Studiecentrum Rechtspleging (SSR) has been the joint training institute of the Dutch judicial system and the Public Prosecution Service, operating independently from the Ministry of Justice. In partnership with the Dutch courts of law and public prosecutor’s offices, the SSR trains law graduates as judges and public prosecutors. These initial training programmes are currently undergoing major changes, and SSR has been assigned to redesign the judge programme.

It has emerged throughout OECD interviews that investigative police staff is scarce in many places in Latvia. However, according to international statistics, Latvia is among EU member states with the largest number of police officers per 100 000 residents (429). The reason seems to be that few are devoted to criminal investigation.

The State Audit Office mentioned in multiple of its past audits of investigative institutions that State Police officers are often unable to investigate criminal processes. Observers also note that errors in application of the law, insufficiently justified decisions, lengthy investigation periods, and cases concluded because of statute of limitations are some of the concerns affecting the police system. «Low investigation quality has far-reaching consequences that only contribute to the unsafe environment in the country and allow criminals to avoid punishment. In addition, state resources are wasted on unfinished cases. Only well-performed and efficient investigation can result in punishment for the guilty. It is the duty of the state to protect its residents from crime» (Baltic News Network, 2017[5]).

One reason for this may be an insufficient training for investigative police. The State Police College 3-day training course on criminal evidence gathering mentioned above seems to be insufficient.

Some of the OECD peer countries reviewed have highlighted that reforms in their prosecutorial systems also included reforms of their police. In Denmark, a significant reform of the Police and the Prosecution Service was implemented in 2007-2010. For the police, this entailed a reduction in the number of local police stations and the creation of larger regional police stations.

Thus, it is recommended to strengthen the capacities of the investigative staff across Latvia, both in terms of number of staff assigned to criminal investigations and improving their qualifications. This will ensure they can meet the growing demand stemming from the criminal justice system for high-quality investigations that prosecutors can effectively rely on when bringing charges to trial.


[5] Baltic News Network (2017), https://bnn-news.com/lra-proposes-restoring-police-academy-to-increase-latvia-s-security-level-174059.

[3] Latvian Judicial Training Centre (2020), “Ad hoc contribution from the Latvian Judicial Training Centre to the OECD for the purposes of the Report”.

[4] National Prosecution Authority of Finland (2020), “Training website”, https://syyttajalaitos.fi/en/training.

[2] United Nations (1990), UN Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors.

[1] UNODC/IAP (2014), The Status and Role of Prosecutors: A United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and International Association of Prosecutors Guide, United Nations, https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/HB_role_and_status_prosecutors_14-05222_Ebook.pdf.


← 1. However, there is a “Classification of errors and omissions found in accusations” meant to evaluate the mistakes made by prosecutors in performing their duties.

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