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Legal framework

Overview of the legal framework

The legal system in Estonia is based on the Continental European civil law model and has been influenced by the German legal system. Unlike to common law countries, Estonia has detailed codifications and issues are solved according to the codifications.

Estonian law is basically divided into private and public law. Generally private law consists of civil law and commercial law. Public law consists of international law, constitutional law, administrative law, criminal law, financial law and procedural law.


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Foreign businesses

Foreign investors have equal rights and obligations with local entrepreneurs. All foreign investors may establish a company in Estonia in the same way as local investors; no special restrictions are made.

Internal law and international agreements protect foreign investments in Estonia. Estonia has concluded treaties for the protection of investments with 31 countries including USA, Germany, France, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland. Also agreements on avoiding double taxation are made with 53 countries including EU countries.

Environmental law

Outline provisions of Estonian environmental law are included in:

  • Estonian Constitution;

  • Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Act (forced 01.05.2002);

  • Environmental Supervision Act (forced 07.07.2001);

  • Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Management System Act (forced 03.04.2005);

  • Pollution Charge Act (forced 21.03.1999);

  • Nature Conservation Act (forced 01.05.2004).

The Estonian Constitution enacts that natural wealth and resources are national riches and shall be used in a sustainable manner. Everyone has a duty to preserve the environment and to compensate for damage caused by him or her. Sustainable Development Act enacts principles of national strategies based on principles authorized on Rio de Janeiro Conference (1992).

Estonian environmental law is dynamic and variable. International environmental standards are transformed into Estonian legal order, environmental legislation is often duplicated.

Often the environmental legislation is in a form of the government and minister regulations.

Estonia has entered into main international environmental conventions and bilateral environmental agreements. Estonia has acceded with following conventions Arhus (1998), Espoo (1991), Helsinki (1992), Kyoto protocol (1997), Geneva (1979), Vienna (1985), Washington (1973), Rio de Janeiro (1992) etc.

The Environmental Inspectorate, Land Board and local government bodies exercise environmental supervision in Estonia. Environmental Inspectorate has authority to impose an administrative liability for violation environmental laws and standards.


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Planning and building

Requirements for construction are enacted in Building Act (forced 01.01.2003). Building design documentation is obligatory for construction activities. On high density areas the general principles of planning are enacted in detail planning. Construction may start if local government gives a building permission.  Building permission also enacts the order of the supervision of the construction. Local governments also provide with permission of using the construction. Permission of use also determines the finality of construction. In case of rebuilding for changing the finality of construction, new building design documentation and building permission is obligatory.

Planning procedures are enacted in Planning Act (forced 01.01.2003)


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Justice system and legal aid

Estonian court system

Estonia has a three-level court system. County, city courts and administrative courts adjudicate matters in the first instance. The majority of courts of first instance are situated in county centres. The courts of second instance hear the appeals against decisions of courts of first instance. Courts of appeal are courts of second instance (sometimes also called circuit courts). The courts of appeal are situated in Jõhvi, Tartu and Tallinn. The Supreme Court, situated in Tartu, is the court of the highest instance.

A statement of claim is filed with the court of first instance, an appeal with the court of second instance and an appeal in cassation with the court of third or the highest instance. A matter shall be heard in the Supreme Court only after all previous court instances have been passed. The filing of an appeal is governed by respective codes of court procedure.


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Attorneys at law

In Estonia, only members of the Estonian Bar Association may provide legal services as attorneys. Estonian Bar Association is a self-governing professional association acting on local government administration principles established on 14 June 1919 for the organization of the provision of legal service in private and public interest and defending of the professional rights of the attorneys. Since 1992 Estonian Bar Association is a member of the International Bar Association (IBA) and since 1 May 2004 a full member of a body uniting the bar associations of the member states of the EU (CCBE).


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