Romanians took to streets to vent their anger with the parliament’s rush to change laws that govern the justice system, against the recommendation of both the local magistrates’ associations and foreign partners, including diplomats and the European Commission.
Critics say the bills, which Parliament will probably adopt next week, could put the judiciary under political control, undermine the independence of prosecutors and judges and prevent serious corruption investigations.
The leaders of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), which formed the government with junior partner ALDE at the start of this year, have repeatedly expressed their lack of trust in the judiciary system. They said it was controlled by a „parallel and illegitimate state” which seeks to gain the political control of the state.
Many of the political leaders, however, are being investigated by prosecutors on corruption charges, as Romania is considered one of the most corrupt states in the EU.
In its first month in office, the PSD government tried to pass a bill that would decriminalise some felonies, such as abuse of office. The plan caused huge street protests, with hundreds of thousand people rallying in the streets in January and February, and the government eventually cancelled the bill.
But the plan to bring the judiciary under control has not stopped, say critics such as Monica Macovei, a former justice minister who is now a member of the European Parliament.
”What the PSD and ALDE have done in the Chamber of Deputies (Romania’s lower house), in an incomprehensible and unjustified haste, it has nothing to do with the rule of law and democracy,” Macovei wrote on her blog.
The three laws that govern the judiciary system were rapidly amended in a special Parliamentary Committee headed by Florin Iordache, who had been the justice minister for only two months and stepped down in February in the face of street protests over planned changes to the Penal Code.
But the special committee has just started to amend the criminal laws and some of the proposals seem even more outrageous to prosecutors.
The planned changes would lead to the closure of DNA, the anticorruption prosecution office, said its chief prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi. ”They wouldn’t allow us to investigate corruption”, said Kovesi.
The commission says the changes are required by an EU directive that urges member states to improve the record on the presumption of innocence, but prosecutors claim that many of the amendments have nothing to do with the presumption of innocence.
According to DNA, some of the proposed changes drastically limit investigative tools at the disposal of prosecutors, such as house or IT searches or phone tappings.
Others seek to ban common legal practices such as sentencing someone in absentia or reopening cases after more than six months on the strength of new evidence.
Debates on the judiciary laws will continue on Monday.