By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest
Speaking to IBNA, Judge Cristi Danilet, a member of Romania’s Superior Magistrates Council, points out justice is still under pressure from politics despite progress achieved over the past eight years, but a new generation of “incorruptible” magistrates brings an impetus to the sector and sends out the signal all citizens are equal before the law.
How independent is the justice system in Romania in relation to politics, seven years after the country joined the EU?
The independence of justice was legislatively consecrated through the reform of the justice system as of 2004. Thanks to an independent minister of Justice (Monica Macovei) and the creation of the Superior Magistrates Council (CSM) as a unique body meant to manage the magistrates’ career, under the European Commission’s permanent monitoring, Romanian judges and prosecutors have got the leverage to manage files without taking into account the rank of the person.
How and under what forms politics interfere with justice and exert pressure on it?
They use two mechanisms. On the one hand, in criminal files in which MPs and ministers are investigated by prosecutors, the Parliament repeatedly refuses to allow prosecutors to do their job, taking advantage of a provision in the Constitution – which confers immunity only for the votes and public opinions, but not for crimes – and thus immunity has become some sort of impunity in Romania.
On the other hand, politicians use the media mechanism to contest not only the prosecutors’ investigations and the court’s rulings, but also to personally attack prosecutors and judges and impair their credibility. Recently, a newly introduced offence in the new Penal Code meant to stop these attacks that shocked even the European Commission has been removed by the same politicians.
The fight against corruption has though scored remarkable successes lately, important public and political figures, such as former PM Adrian Nastase, people who have always left the impression of impunity, being sent to prison. How do you explain this momentum in the fight against high level corruption despite continued attacks against justice? Is this progress irreversible?
The reform is done with people and rules. The rules have been improved as of 2004-2005, when a team of elite prosecutors started being put together at the National Anti-corruption Department (DNA) and the Directorate for Investigation Organized Crime and terrorism (DIICOT). At the same time, the magistrates’ corps have considerably renewed, the majority being between 35-40 years old and with no connection to communism and don’t owe anybody anything. They have been recruited through competition and are incorruptible. At this moment, the signal is the law is equally applied for all. I hope this trend will last as long as possible.
Is the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) still an effective means of pressure of the European Union to ensure progress in the justice sector and the fight against corruption?
It is a positive means of pressure. Without CVM, prosecutor’s offices would have now been under political control, the National Integrity Agency (ANI) would have been dissolved and CSM would have been weakened. CVM sets some minimal standards of an independent and upright justice which can be met with a little effort from within the system, but also with protection from the outside. Justice is a social value, not a whim. In Europe, there is the rule of law principle as part of the democratic culture, but we have just begun discussing about this in the public space starting with the sad events in the summer of the 2012, when an unconstitutional attack was attempted against the main democratic institutions in Romania.
How do you asses the new Penal Code – is it a step forward, does the new code answer all the judiciary needs and crime reality in the Romanian society?
No doubt, the new codes are a legislative progress. Despite this, they are not irreproachable. Besides the fact there was no preparation for the population as concerns the new provisions, there are public policies I myself have not understood: thus, there are crimes that have multiplied and yet the lawmakers have decreased the sentences, just as, amid full anti-corruption, they have decreased the maximum limit of sentences. Anyway, it is up to judges to settle extremely severe sentences for anti-social crimes with major impact on citizens.