Romanian magistrates rally to support rule of law

Romanian magistrates stand during a protest outside the Bucharest Court of Appeal in Bucharest, Romania, 16 September 2018. Hundreds of Romanian judges and prosecutors protested over planned modifications to the legal system. [Bogdan Cristel/EPA/EFE]

Hundreds of Romanian magistrates held a silent protest in support of an independent judiciary in capital Bucharest on Sunday (16 September) after a slew of legal changes by the ruling Social Democrats in one of the European Union’s most corrupt states.

Since taking power last year, the party has embarked on a process to overhaul the judiciary and change legislation to decriminalise several graft offences. Several party members, including leader Liviu Dragnea, are under investigation or on trial for corruption.

Romanian anti-graft prosecutors charge head of ruling party

Romania’s National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) has charged Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD), on suspicion of forming a ‘criminal group’ to funnel European Union funds, after an investigation by the EU’s anti-corruption body OLAF.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader pushed through the dismissal of chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi earlier this year and is currently reviewing the country’s prosecutor general.

Romania's president removes chief anti-corruption prosecutor

Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis sacked chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi on Monday (9 July) to honour a constitutional court ruling which Kövesi said may leave prosecutors exposed to political interference.

The Social Democrats’ legal changes have raised concerns over the rule of law from the European Commission, which is keeping Romania’s justice system under special monitoring, the US State Department and thousands of magistrates, while triggering the country’s largest street protests in decades.

On Sunday, magistrates stood on the steps of Bucharest’s Court of Appeals holding banners which said “For an independent justice”.

“The independence of judges and prosecutors is not their privilege or a personal prerogative but a necessity to ensure that the judiciary is capable through its institutions to fulfil its purpose,” Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar said in a statement.

Judges and prosecutors were protesting changes to the criminal code, supporting the prosecutor general and asking that lawmakers consult the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters.

They have held two similar protests in recent months.

“There is political interference in the justice act, and the changes to criminal procedures and the criminal code depart from international standards,” one magistrate said.

The Constitutional Court meets on Monday to discuss challenges brought by opposition lawmakers against changes to the criminal code. The Venice Commission is expected to issue an opinion on the changes in mid-October.

Concerns over the rule of law in Romania follow similar issues seen in Poland and Hungary, where governments are under pressure from the EU over democratic standards.

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