Justice Ministry released the GRECO reports. They urge to disband special section for investigating magistrates, warn over insufficient progress in fighting corruption

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Justice Ministry has released the GRECO reports today, both on its website and also on the GRECO page, in Romanian ad English.

Justice Minister, Ana Birchall, has officially informed the Executive Secretariat of the GRECO about the Romanian Government’s decision to authorise the release of the two reports on Romania. Upon GRECO proposal, it was agreed the reports should be released on July 9, at 11:00hrs”, reads a JusMin press release.

Asked on Tuesday before the publication of the report if Romania must observe the recommendations in the GRECO reports, Justice Minister Ana Birchall has said that, usually, “when you are member of a club, you need to follow its rules“.

“I think any report, any analysis is important, and you know as a general rule, when you are in a club, you need to follow the rules. I will have a stance on the GRECO recommendations after they are releases”, Birchall added.

One of the reports asked for the abolition of the special section for investigating magistrates, while the other GRECO document warned public perceptions of low levels of corruption in certain countries, including Romania, may lead to underestimating the need for measures to combat corrupt practices.

According to the Follow-up Report to the Ad hoc Report on ROMANIA (Rule 34) adopted by GRECO at its 83rd Plenary Meeting  in Strasbourg, 17-21 June 2019, “a series of reforms in the justice system, initiated by the Romanian Government in the course of 2017, led to a large-scale wave of public protests and concerns expressed by numerous representatives and associations of the judiciary and prosecution, as well as by the international community, about the consequences of the intended reforms for the independence of judges and prosecutors.”

The present Follow-up Report assesses the implementation of GRECO’s recommendations contained in the Ad hoc Report and provides an overall appraisal of Romania’s compliance with these recommendations.

One of the recommendations from the Fourth Evaluation Round that GRECO says it is not yet implemented is that the transparency of the legislative process be improved by further developing the rules on public debates, consultations and hearings. “No rules have been further developed to allow for public debates, consultations and hearings, and the practice in this regard has not changed. The use of Government Emergency Ordinances (GEOs) for adopting important legal amendments has continued, as in the course of 2018-2019, the Government has proceeded to adopt several new GEOs10 with substantial amendments to legislation concerning the judiciary and prosecution.”

GRECO  has also warned over particular concerns raised by amendments to the three justice laws, including on the risks of drainage in the magistracy and of arbitrariness in promotions and on the new special prosecutor’s section for the investigation of offences in the judiciary.

GRECO argues that the prosecutor’s section for the investigation of offences in the judiciary is one of the most controversial amendments, for it could lead to conflicts of jurisdiction and could be misused and subject to undue interference in the criminal justice process.

The concerns expressed by GRECO in the Ad hoc Report over the negative consequences of setting up such a specialised prosecutorial structure and the genuine reasons behind this decision13 remain even more relevant against the background of the continued pressure in respect of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), the dismissal of the Chief Prosecutor of the DNA,14 and the increasing influence of the ongoing controversies in Romania on the judicial and prosecutorial appointments.15 In this respect, GRECO notes that the recent amendment by GEO no. 7/2019 of Law no. 304/2004 as regards the hierarchical position of the Chief Prosecutor of the Section for the Investigation of Criminal Offences in the Judiciary (see paragraph 28) allows revocation of appeals lodged by other prosecutorial services, including by the Prosecutor General, to higher instance courts for instance in corruption cases, and places this Section outside the hierarchical structure of the Romanian prosecution.16 GRECO also refers to the observations of the Venice Commission in its latest Opinion on the amendments to justice laws, which states that “existing fears that the new structure would serve as an (additional) instrument to intimidate and put pressure on judges and prosecutors – especially if coupled with other new measures envisaged in their respect, such as the new provisions on magistrates’ material liability – may be seen as legitimate and should not be ignored.

The ad-hoc report of the EU body also stresses the risks of weakening of the prosecutors’ status, especially their independence, as well as developments concerning the National Anti-Corruption Directorate.

“GRECO notes that only one of the five specific recommendations made in its Ad hoc Report has been complied with, and that the four remaining recommendations have not been implemented. In addition, the two recommendations reiterated from the Fourth Evaluation Round are still pending in the Fourth Round Compliance Procedure (…) GRECO notes the progress achieved with respect to eliminating incompatibilities for judges and prosecutors, i.e. that they cannot perform outside activities, other than higher education and didactic functions. GRECO is particularly concerned by the fact that the recommendation to abandon the setting-up of the Section for the Investigation of the Offences in the Judiciary has been completely disregarded (…) Finally, GRECO invites the authorities of Romania to authorise, at their earliest convenience, the publication of this report, to translate it into the national language and to make the translation publicly available,” reads the conclusions.

The reports are both in Romanian and English at www.just.ro and www.coe.int/greco.

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