Opening speech at the International Research Conference on the 15th Anniversary of the Constitution

Author:Märt Rask
Position:Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Estonia

Having re-established independence, Estonia is celebrating the 15th anniversary of the national constitution. The conference about to begin is one of the weightiest on the list of anniversary events and certainly the most law-oriented in its content.

The Constitution of Estonia, which was passed by referendum on 28 June 1992 , is the fourth fundamental document of our statehood, which will soon celebrate its 90th jubilee, while it is the first Constitution that has laid the basis for protection of human rights and the development of democracy and the rule of law. I dare say that our Constitution is a modern set of legal values and principles that has a clear regulatory impact on regulations and is therefore different from those many constitutions that constitute sets of eloquent declarations or political programme documents.

The Constitution is alive and working. The Constitution is respected. While certain indications of nihilism are apparent in the public discussion of the implementation of some other legal acts, then non-compliance with the requirements of the Constitution has not been accepted by the public. Rather, abidance by the Constitution and constitutional thought are used as arguments to criticise misconduct, meaning that the Constitution has a position of authority in public thought.

Fifteen years of validity have proved that all of our disputes of public affairs and society can be settled on the basis of the provisions of the Constitution. As a universal legal act, the Constitution has not allowed any serious constitutional crises to occur in Estonia , although the press has sometimes made ominous predictions.

The Constitution represents a national agreement made 15 years ago to strengthen and develop our state in unfaltering faith and unwavering will. This agreement is timeless, for the state and the law, being in constant change, cannot rely in their development only on a national agreement or national interest. Indispensably, this small nation had to choose the cultural area to which to belong, who to resemble, and whom to contrast against. The Constitution reflects this choice. The Constitution functions as the fundamental act of the legal order. A modern legal system has been built up relying on the Constitution, which is based on European legal values and principles and harmonises with the European legal area.

When speaking about the importance and strengths of the Constitution, we cannot overlook the constant discussion concerning whether Estonia needs a new constitution. Let us admit that the 15-year-old Constitution has passed the test of time. The Constitution is nowhere near flawless as a legal act, but what constitution is? The Constitution is, in the first place, a compromise between the political forces active at the time of its adoption, or, if you will, a public agreement made at the time of the greatest awakening of the nation, and only in the second place is it a legislative act. It is worth mentioning that those amendments that have been made to the Constitution over the past 15...

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