The Chamber of the Court in Vilnius, next to Lukiškės Square around 1912
One of the most significant phenomena of still proceeding judicial reform is considered to be the restoration of the Court of Appeal of Lithuania that is independent and uniform for the whole country.
The restored Court of Appeal of Lithuania was located in Vilnius, Gediminas Avenue 40/1, on the third and fourth floors of the building. This building was specifically designed for the needs of the judiciary. In 1890 the architect from Petersburg G. Prusakovas prepared the project of the building and it was under construction from 1895 to 1898 in the Avenue at that time known as Georgevskis Avenue. Then the building was one of the most important new representative buildings, where Vilnius Regional Court and the Chamber of Vilnius Court were located. In 1921 the building of the Chamber was taken over by the Polish government which at that time governed Vilnius region. The Regional Court and the Court of Appeal were settled here. At the period of the Soviet occupation since 1940 this building was used by the contemporary public security organs.
While establishing the competence of the Court of Appeal of Lithuania, The Law on Courts of 31 May 1994 indicated that the Court of Appeal of Lithuania shall be the appellate instance for cases involving decisions, judgements, rulings, resolutions and orders taken by regional courts as courts of first instance.
By the amendments of the Law on Courts of 4 July 1996 the Court of Appeal of Lithuania was vested with the function of cassation instance. The Court of Appeal of Lithuania did not only have to perform the functions of the appellate instance, but also the functions of the cassation instance for judgements, sentences, decisions and rulings made by regional courts and passed under appellate procedure. On 1 January 1999 this did not come within the competence of the Court of Appeal of Lithuania any longer because the function of the cassation court was performed by the Supreme Court of Lithuania.
The Court of Appeal of Lithuania also temporarily performed the function of the Supreme Court in the system of administrative courts. Having passed the Law on Establishment of Administrative Courts of 14 January 1999, on 1 May 1999 the division of administrative cases began to function in the Court of Appeal of Lithuania. Pursuant to the Law on Proceeding of Administrative Cases, it was the appellate instance for the cases which had been decided by the Higher Administrative Court as the court of first instance, the court of last resort on the jurisdiction issues of administrative cases. Moreover, the division of administrative cases used to develop a uniform practice of administrative courts in application of laws.
The division of administrative cases in the Court of Appeal of Lithuania ceased to exist at the beginning of 2001. The division of administrative cases in the Court of Appeal of Lithuania and the Higher Administrative Court were reorganized into the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania.
Nowadays while establishing the competence of the Court of Appeal of Lithuania, The Law on Courts provides that the Court of Appeal of Lithuania shall be the appellate instance for cases involving decisions, judgements, rulings, resolutions and orders taken by regional courts. It is as well the only court which shall hear requests for the recognition of the decisions of foreign courts, international courts and arbitration awards and their enforcement in the Republic of Lithuania. The Court of Appeal of Lithuania shall as well perform other functions assigned to its jurisdiction. The chairman of the Court of Appeal of Lithuania shall perform the function of supervision of administrative activities of regional courts. Pursuant to the Code of Civil Procedure of the Republic of Lithuania, the chairman of the Court of Appeal of Lithuania or the chairman of the division of civil cases shall be within their rights to remand a case from one district court to another, located in the territory of the other regional court, or from one regional court to another. The Code of Criminal Procedure of the Republic of Lithuania provides the chairman of the Court of Appeal of Lithuania or the chairwoman of the division of criminal cases with the analogous rights in the criminal procedure.
The chamber composed of three judges hears the cases in the Court of Appeal of Lithuania. In individual cases the actions provided in the laws of procedures in both civil and criminal cases may be performed by a single judge.
The Court of Appeal of Lithuania shall:
The essence and significance of appeal
The court hearing the case as well as the parties involved in the case are not protected from reaching the wrong decision or judgement. The illegal or groundless decision (judgement) can be determined by different objective and subjective reasons: wrongly indicated factual circumstances, false testimony offered by the witness, false written evidence, contradictory legal acts, case law that is not uniform, as well as little record of judicial service and the judge’s dishonesty. Having admitted the fact that the possibility of wrong decision exists, the parties of the proceedings avail themselves of a right to appeal if they do not agree with the decision taken by the court.
The significance of appeal has been emphasized in the international level too. The recommendation No. 95 (5) ‘Due to the development of adoption and functioning of appeal systems and procedures in civil and commercial cases’ issued by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 7 February 1995 states that the parties of the proceedings should avail themselves of a right to appeal against the decision reached by the court of first instance. The right of appeal related to criminal cases is not guaranteed at the very highest international level. Article 2 of the Protocol No. 7 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms adopted in 1984 provides for the fact that everyone convicted of a criminal offence by a tribunal shall have the right to have his conviction or sentence reviewed by a higher tribunal. The exercise of this right, including the grounds on which it may be exercised, shall be governed by law. It has to be indicated that in exceptional cases the international documents allow the restrictions of the right of appeal in criminal and civil cases. In criminal cases this right may be subject to exceptions in regard to offences of a minor character, as prescribed by law, while in civil cases the basic criterion related to the restrictions of the right of appeal is considered to be the disputed amount of money. The main purpose of these restrictions is considered to be shortening of the litigation proceedings, the appellate court protection from relatively minor matters and economic interests of the state. In all cases the restrictions of the right of appeal have to be clearly prescribed by law, however they do reflect their exclusive rights.
Article 5 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania deals with the scope of power in the country, while Article 109 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania deals with the justice and states that justice shall be administered only by courts. While administering justice, judges and courts shall be independent. When hearing cases, judges shall obey only the law. The court shall hand down decisions in the name of the Republic of Lithuania. Only the appellate court has a right to decide whether the decision reached by the court of first instance is legal and grounded. Regarding these circumstances there is the court system based on instances in many countries, including Lithuania, which is supposed to control the decisions reached by the courts of lower instance. In our country the regional courts deal with the cases involving decisions, judgements, rulings, resolutions and orders of the district courts. The Court of Appeal of Lithuania is the only appeal instance for cases involving decisions, judgements, rulings, resolutions and orders of the regional courts.
The decision reached by the court of first instance can be considered as wrong due to the unduly indicated factual circumstances of the case (invalidity of the decision or judgement) and the legal evaluation of these circumstances that was unduly conducted (illegality of the decision or judgement). The illegality of the decision or judgement can be determined by the infringements of procedure law norms made by the court of first instance. Having admitted the fact that the court of first instance may make mistakes related to the statement and evaluation of factual circumstances or the application of legal norms, there should be a possibility raised to initiate the control of the infringements made by the court of first instance. Therefore, the appellate court can review the decision made by the court of first instance legally and factually, unlike the court of cassation, which reviews the decisions, judgements and rulings only on the aspect of law application.
Thus the appeal is considered to be as the address of the interested party to the appellate court while asking it to review the unenforced decision or judgement reached by the court of first instance and then to change or reverse the decision due to the factual or legal mistakes made by the court.
In theory there is no uniform attitude towards the limits of the appeal procedure: whether the appeal procedure should mean trial de novo or trial revisio prioris instantiae. The answer to this question depends on whether the appeal invokes the effect of devolution, which means the transference of the trial of the case in the higher instance of the court. There are no discussions related to the legal consequences of the appeal. Having lodged the petition for appeal, the final act reached by the court of first instance does not come into force, and this is named as the effect of suspension of appeal. If the final act does not come into force, it cannot be executed.
After the restoration of the Sovereignty of the Republic of Lithuania, there were many reforms made regarding the appeal procedure. In the civil proceedings the complete appeal system has been changed to a model of partial appeal entrenched in the Code of Civil Procedure of the Republic of Lithuania passed on 1 January 2003, i.e., the restricted possibility of ius novorum application in the appellate court. The appellate court hears the case in the limits determined by the petition for appeal.
In the criminal proceedings the limits of appeal procedure are also determined by the petitions for appeal, however, in this case no restrictions are applied for adducing new evidence in the appellate court. Besides, having established the basic violations of the law of criminal procedure, the appellate court has not only to ascertain the fact whether it had influence on the person who is related to the petition for appeal but also on the persons who have not lodged the petitions for appeal. Therefore in the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Republic of Lithuania the appeal procedure is understood as trial de novo in the limits determined by the petition for appeal.