According to the Estonian law of enforcement procedure the judicial officers, who carry out execution proceedings, are called bailiffs (in Estonian: kohtutäiturid). The bailiffs have independent and liberal status. The profession and admission to it are strictly regulated – bailiffs are operating under deontological, disciplinary, and professional rules for which they are required to take out liability insurance coverage. They are appointed by the Ministry of Justice. There are approximately 52 judicial officers, spread across the sixteen regions that make up the territory of Estonia. They are attached to a territorial jurisdiction.
There are several laws in Estonia that regulate the enforcement procedures. The most basic law that bailiff relies on in the procedures is the Code of Enforcement Procedure (hereinafter referred to as CEP). Enforcement proceedings can only be started on basis of certain enforcement instruments (for example court judgments and rulings; administrative acts; notarized agreements and so on). Full list is stated in section 2 of the CEP. With each enforcement instrument the bailiff is obliged to check, whether the enforcement instrument complies with the requirements of law. Nevertheless the bailiff does not have the right to substantively analyze the claim. Therefore one of the fundamental principles of enforcement procedures is formalization, which basically means that the bailiff is justified to give legal opinions only on the matter concerning the enforcement procedures and their compliance with law, but no more. So if any question arises about the warranty of the claim then the debtor and the claimant have to sort it out between themselves or with court’s aid.
Starting of enforcement proceedings
Enforcement proceedings are usually started on the basis of application for enforcement and the enforcement instrument. In addition to formal check of enforcement instrument it is important to verify whether the debtor (or debtor’s property) resides in bailiff’s territorial jurisdiction. In Estonia there are four territorial jurisdictions (Harju, Pärnu, Tartu, Viru).
After opening the enforcement file bailiff delivers an enforcement notice to a debtor. There are several ways of delivering the documents to the debtor including personal delivery, delivery via e-mail, internet and so on.
Term for voluntary compliance and bailiff’s fee
After the documents are delivered the debtor will always be given some time to pay the claim or voluntarily comply with the enforcement instrument with the enforcement instrument. According to CEP §25 subsection 1 the term for voluntary compliance cannot be shorter than 10 days or longer than 30 days. The term can be prolonged with the consent of a claimant.
During the term for voluntary compliance the bailiff does not usually take any additional measures and waits for the debtor to pay the debt voluntarily. When the term for voluntary compliance has passed and the debtor has not complied with the enforcement instrument, the bailiff has to move on with enforcement proceedings and take immediately all the measures permitted by law in order to enforce an enforcement instrument, collect information necessary for enforcement proceedings and explain the rights and obligations of participants in enforcement proceedings to participants (CEP §8). In Estonia it is quite beneficial for the debtor to comply with the enforcement instrument during the term for voluntary compliance because the debtor has actual financial interest in this. If the requirement is fulfilled during the term for voluntary compliance then the debtor is required to pay the bailiff’s fee only in the amount of one-half of the fee prescribed by law (hereinafter referred to as BA). The bailiff’s fee is usually paid by debtor (BA § 30). The size of bailiff’s fees are fixed by law and the law forbids the bailiff to make any other agreements on this matter – a bailiff is prohibited from entering into agreements to alter the rates of fees or the procedure for the charging of fees provided by law.
According to BA the bailiff’s fee in Estonia is divided into three parts: fee for commencement of enforcement proceedings, basic fee and additional fee. Basic fee is the one fee component that depends on the amount of claim for payment and it is calculated according to the § 35 of the BA. Value added tax (20%) is added to the bailiff’s fee
As mentioned, if the term for voluntary compliance has passed and the debtor has not complied with the enforcement instrument, the bailiff is obliged to immediately take all the measures permitted by law in order to enforce an enforcement instrument. The permitted measures are different and vary depending on different factors - enforcement instrument, the size of the claim etc.
Seizing debtor’s account
CEP provides the ground for making claim for payment on debtor’s account or in other words seizure of the debtor’s bank accounts, which results in the fact that the debtor cannot withdraw or in any other way use the money on his or her account until the claim is fulfilled. In Estonia the seizing of accounts is done mostly electronically According to CEP the debtor has the right for the minimum monthly wage (290€) not to be seized. If a debtor maintains another person or pays alimony to him or her, the amount not subject to seizure increases by one-third of the minimum monthly wages per each dependant unless a claim for support for a child is subject to compulsory execution (CEP §132). It is debtor’s responsibility and obligation to inform the bailiff about debtor’s incomes and the bank that debtor wishes to withdraw his or her monthly wage. Therefore the debtor has to make an application to the bailiff and add necessary documents to the application. The bailiff annuls the seizure of the account within three working days to the extent, which guarantees the income not subject to seizure, for the debtor per each prepaid month or informs the debtor about the necessity of presenting additional documents.
Seizing debtor’s income
This also applies in case of seizing debtor’s income. In order to make a claim for payment on a claim, a bailiff seizes the claim and obliges a third person who has obligations to a debtor to perform the obligations to the bailiff for the benefit of a claimant. The bailiff, by an instrument of seizure, prohibits the debtor from disposing of the claim, in particular from collecting the claim. Third person is obliged to comply with the seizure act. If the third person refuses without legal basis to enforce the instrument of seizure or does not enforce it as required, the bailiff has the right to make a decision for performance of obligation and a warning concerning the imposition of a penalty payment. Penalty payment is payment, which is applied if the third person fails to enforce the instrument of seizure without appropriate legal basis. The penalty payment is collected into the state budget. The amount of penalty payment, which is imposed for the first time, is not less than 192 Euros or more than 767 Euros and upon a repeated imposition the payment is not more than 1917 Euros.
Seizing of debtor’s assets
The bailiff has the right to make claim on debtor’s other assets, movables and immovables. Upon seizure, the asset is be evaluated and the price is be indicated in the instrument of seizure. Property is evaluated with the agreement of a debtor and a claimant. If the parties do not reach the agreement, then the property is going to be evaluated by bailiff or by an expert.
Selling of debtor’s assets
According to CEP the property can be sold using different methods. Public auction, for instance, can be written, oral or electronic (according to CEP § 78). The time and the place of the auction are determined by bailiff. Everybody has the right to participate and make bids. In the case of an auction of an immovable, a bailiff may determine deposit for the auction participants in the amount of up to 10 per cent of the starting price. If deposit is determined, a person who wishes to participate in the auction is obliged to pay the deposit. Best bidder wins the auction and he or she has to pay the purchase price immediately after the end of the auction. If the purchase price exceeds 12,700 Euros, the winner of an oral auction is obliged to pay one-tenth of the purchase price immediately after the end of the auction, the rest of the price shall be paid within 15 days. If a purchaser wishes to buy an asset sold at an auction by a loan granted by a credit institution, he or she has to notify a bailiff thereof immediately after his or her bid is declared to be the best. The purchaser undertakes to pay the total purchase price or ensure performance of the obligation to pay the purchase price by a credit institution within fifteen days as of the day following the date the bid is declared to be the best. A bailiff prepares a report on an auction which is signed by the bailiff and impartial observers.
Upon failure of an auction, a claimant may demand that a repeated auction be organized. In case of the repeated auction the bailiff may reduce the price of things, but not more than by 25 per cent compared to the starting price of the previous auction (CEP § 100 subsection 5). The bailiff has the right to repeatedly organize the auction until the price of the asset has been reduced up to 70 per cent compared to the starting price at the first auction.
It is also possible to sell the property in other manner – for example the debtor can find a buyer for the property and sell it under the supervision of a bailiff.
Termination of the case
Basic grounds for terminating the enforcement procedures are stated in CEP § 48 according to which the proceedings are terminated on the following basis:
1) on the basis of an application of a claimant;
2) upon submission of a written document if it is evident from the document that the claim of the claimant has been satisfied;
3) if money required for the satisfaction of a claim has been paid to the bailiff or an action indicated in the enforcement instrument is performed;
4) upon submission of a court decision by which an enforcement instrument accepted for enforcement or an obligation to immediately enforce it is revoked or compulsory enforcement is deemed to be inadmissible or termination of the compulsory enforcement is ordered;
5) upon submission of a written document if it is evident from the document that a security necessary to prevent enforcement is provided;
6) in the case of the death or termination of a claimant or debtor if the claim or obligation cannot be transferred to the successors or legal successors of the deceased;
7) upon unjustified commencement of enforcement proceedings due to failure to comply with the conditions of enforcement proceedings;
8) on another basis provided by law.
At all stages of the enforcement procedure the debtor has the right to make a complaint about decisions and activities of bailiff. The complaint has to be made within 10 days as of the day, on which the complainant becomes or should have become aware of the decision or action of the bailiff. A bailiff shall review a complaint about the activities of a bailiff in the presence of the participants in proceedings within 15 days and make a decision within 10 days after the review. A bailiff shall inform the participants in proceedings of the time of review of a complaint. Failure of participants in proceedings to be present at the examination of the complaint shall not constitute an impediment to the review of the complaint. A bailiff makes a reasoned decision concerning a complaint and delivers it to the participants in proceedings.
It is important to note that the participant cannot file an appeal to a court without making a complaint to the bailiff beforehand. It is important mostly because it gives the bailiff the opportunity to notice a possible mistake and to correct it. Therefore the work load of courts is thus reduced. The participant may file an appeal against a decision of a bailiff made regarding a complaint to a county court in the jurisdiction of which the bailiff’s office is located within 10 days as of the delivery of the decision.
The official language for communication in enforcement procedures is Estonian. The bailiff is not obliged to translate the documents, give the explanations or accept the documents in foreign languages. Complaints are accepted only in Estonian. In informal conversations some exceptions could be made, depending on the matter and the bailiff's understanding of the foreign language.
The enforcement instruments are accepted in Estonian and English. Nevertheless the bailiff has the right, if such necessity becomes evident, to demand translation of the documents to Estonian language.