Venice Commission issues tough report on Romania: Amendments on criminal justice laws weaken anti-corruption fight, they should be all re-assessed

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The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission adopted a tough report today on Romania’s latest amendments on the justice laws and criminal codes, expressing concern that many draft amendments to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code seriously weaken the effectiveness of its criminal justice system to fight corruption offences, violent crimes and organised criminality.

The Venice Commission recommends that the Romanian authorities conduct an overall re-assessment of the amendments in both codes through a comprehensive and effective consultation process in order to come up with a solid and coherent legislative proposal benefiting from a broad support within the Romanian society and taking fully into account the applicable standards, and to follow the guidance of the Constitutional Court. On 12 October the Constitutional Court of Romania established that over 60 articles of the draft law amending the Criminal Law Procedure were unconstitutional and is expected to examine the constitutionality of the draft amendments to the Criminal Code later this month.

The Commission also adopted with some amendments the preliminary opinion issued in July on three drafts laws amending existing legislation on the statute of judges and prosecutors, judicial organisation and the Superior Council of Magistracy. This opinion argues that these laws would adversely affect the efficiency, quality and independence of the judiciary, with negative consequences for the fight against corruption. The three laws have already been promulgated and entered into force.

Whilst the Commission welcomes as a positive step the postponement of the entry into force of the early retirement scheme for magistrates, which will provide Parliament time to reconsider this scheme, it did not examine other parts of this ordinance and reserves its position in this respect,” the Venice Commission pointed out.

As for the draft amendments to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, the opinion underlines that although the public debate has focused on the risk that they may undermine the fight against corruption, their impact is much wider. According to the Commission, the reform could significantly affect the criminal justice system and its effective and efficient operation, in particular the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of other serious and complex forms of crime.

The opinion criticises the excessive speed and the insufficient transparency of the reform process, especially because there were more than 300 amendments, many of them radically reforming criminal policy. The haste in their adoption had a negative impact on the quality of the legislation, which contains contradictions that could cause legal uncertainty in the future.

The Commission also stresses that a more comprehensive process of discussion with legal practitioners and society at large would have been necessary, in particular taking into account that the amendments were questioned by actors such as the High Court of Cassation and that they were very divisive in Romanian society and institutions. In addition, considering the clashes between institutions (for example, the President of the Republic, the High Court of Cassation and the Prosecutor General versus the Parliament), the Commission highlights the need for more time to search for a broader support for the legislative package.

More about the report here.

JusMin: Venice Commission asks for no early retirement in the judiciary system

Prior to the release of the Venice Commission’s report, Justice Minister Tudorel Toader had announced on Facebook that the Commission’s opinion holds the delay of the early retirement of magistrates, while recommending the abrogation of this provision.

Venice Commission’s opinion holds the temporary solution on the magistrates’ retirement issue by delaying the moment when that provision should come into force. The recommendation is to repeal that provision”, reads the Justice minister’s Facebook post.

The emergency ordinance amending the justice laws and that holds the delay of the magistrates’ early retirement has been approved by the Government in Bucharest on Monday. If the previous version of the GEO stipulated the delay of the early retirements by December 2022, the one adopted by the Executive this week proposed the delay just by the end of 2019.

Justice minister Toader, who is also member of the Venice Commission, had several meetings with the Committee’s members lately.

In his turn, Social Democrat MP Florin Iordache announced he had told the Venice Commission that the provision related to the magistrates’ early retirement might be amended or deleted in Parliament, but underlined that the Department to investigate magistrates will stay.

PNL calls on PM Dancila to come in Parliament, asks for JusMin resignation

PNL chairman Ludovic Orban has said after the Venice Commission’s report that Romania risks saying goodbye to Schengen accession and EU funds if the government majority doesn’t observe the European officials’ recommendations.

Orban added that Romania “can no longer hang at the whims” of PSD-ALDE leaders, Liviu Dragnea and Călin Popescu Tăriceanu.

According to him, PNL will summon PM Viorica Dancila in Parliament to vow she will observe the Venice Commission’s recommendations, arguing that Tudorel Toader’s resignation from the Justice minister seat is not enough.

The spokesperson of the National Liberal Party, Ionel Danca, had earlier said that the Justice minister’s post on the Venice Commission’s recommendation against any early retirements in the justice system is equating with his resignation from the Dancila Cabinet.

Danca argues that “Toader’s post admits that the Venice Commission’s experts have realized about the wicked way he used the Commission’s recommendations in order to transpose in a law solutions that don’t reflect the spirit of the European experts’ recommendations“.

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