by Robert Kiss

Changes to the Romanian Judicial system: an overview Justice Minister Tudorel Toader proposed a series of changes to the country’s judicial system. All of these proposals are very controversial and would have an adverse impact on the system. Massive protests were held all around the country. Some of the proposed changes include move to ban public statements about investigations and trials, and another to limit the use of video and audio recordings. A further proposal would allow suspects to be present when witnesses are giving testimony. This could mean the victim of a pedophile being obliged to testify in front of their perpetrator.

One agency charged with prosecuting organised crime and terrorism said that if these amendments become law, 1200 drug trafficking cases will be halted. Parliament approved another amendment which limits the president’s role in the appointment of top prosecutors. Under the revision, the president will only be able to block the appointment of a prosecutor once. Justice Minister Toader recommended having the president no longer appoint the general prosecutor and the chief anti-corruption prosecutor, a main function of Romania’s presidency. He also suggested a process to punish prosecutors and judges for erroneous rulings and prosecutions. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has criticised the proposal, but sadly in vain because no action was taken to remove this amendment.

The top brass of Romania’s judiciary, including the head of the Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), Laura Kovesi, has warned that the amendments risk derailing Romania’s campaign against corruption of high ranking political officials. DNA has done a fantastic job over the past few years regarding the fight against corruption, with 72 deputies and senators sent to trial since 2006 alongside cabinet ministers, a sitting Prime Minister and hundreds of mayors and other public officials. The speakers of parliament’s lower house and senate are both currently on trial in separate cases. Both of them are president of their own parties, Social Democratic Party and the Alliance of Democrats and Liberals which is the coalition leading the country. In an unprecedented attempt hundreds of Romanian judges and prosecutors took part in protests around the country to show their opposition to legal changes they say would hamper prosecutions. The first demonstrations were held outside courts in Bucharest, and other major cities that included Cluj, Timisoara, Galati, Brasov and Constanta.

The unusual judicial display continued in the evening with a silent protest outside the Bucharest Court of Appeal and outside a court in the central city of Brasov. In Cluj people offered flowers to prosecutors as a sign of respect. Prosecutors were holding up sign which stated the oath they took when taking office, in which they vowed to respect the laws and Constitution of the country. In a joint statement, prosecutors in Constanta said the proposals “don’t just hamper the anti-corruption fight, but (also) the fight against all crime.” On 20

January, 40000 people gathered outside the Government building in Bucharest to protest and called the Social Democratic Party “the red plague” and shouted “A government of thieves”. Demonstrations were held in other major cities as well. People are angry because the Parliament swiftly voted these changes to the justice laws, despite receiving numerous warnings from the European institutions. Earlier this month, the Social Democratic Party used its substantial majority to approve a judicial overhaul in the lower house that threatens to put the justice system under political control. The Senate as expected approved the bills as well.

The bills were submitted to president Klaus Iohannis for approval. EU leaders have suggested that the president should ask the Venice Commission to review the changes before making any decision. The protests come on the back of an ongoing political crisis marked by the resignation of PM Mihai Tudose. The Social Democratic Party decided to withdraw support for Mr. Tudose, who was accused by PSD’s leadership for starting conflicts with ministers and high-ranking party officials. President Iohannis nominated MEP Viorica Dancila as the new PM. A vote of confidence is expected by the end of January. If approved, this will be the third Government in the past one year, a fact which clearly shows the incompetence of the ruling Social Democratic Party and its leadership.

26 February 2018
This text was published in Bullseye issue 71