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Venice Commission releases the report on Romanian’s criminal codes and justice laws: “Very little time and transparency for a genuine public debate”

Venice Commission has published the report on the amendments brought to the justice laws and criminal codes in Romania on Monday, with the European experts slamming the Parliament’s amendments.

The focus in public debate regarding the proposed amendments to the criminal codes has been the allegation that the current amendments have the potential of undermining the fight against corruption in Romania. However, the Commission would like to emphasise from the outset that the potential impact of the amendments under review is much wider: they could significantly impact the criminal justice system and its effective and efficient operation, namely the investigation into, the prosecution and adjudication of various other forms of crime, in particular serious and complex crimes. On the other hand, provisions which seem to raise no concern and even to strengthen legal security may turn out to be problematic in light of pending corruption cases or investigations and amount to ad hominem legislation,” the Venice Commission argued.

They say the amendments operated on the criminal legislation were adopted in haste, providing no time and transparency to be widely debated together with the civil society.

The amendments to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code laws (and Law no.78/2000 on preventing, detecting and sanctioning acts of  corruption, and the Law no.304/2004 on judicial organization), tabled by the majority coalition of PSD and ALDE, were adopted under urgent procedure by the Romanian parliament, offering very little time and transparency for a genuine public debate. The amendments to the CC were adopted by Romanian Parliament on 18 June 2018, and those to the CPC on 4 July 2018.

The legislative process which led to the adoption of the amendments to the two Codes has drawn strong criticism, both from among the judiciary and within the Romanian society. The amending draft laws, passed through an urgent procedure, have mainly been discussed in the framework of a body established especially for that purpose (a special joint committee of the two chambers of Romanian parliament). The possibilities for a more in-depth examination of an important piece of legislation by two bodies, according o the regular procedure, offered by the Romanian bicameral system therefore were not used,” the Commission’s opinion further notes.

According to the expert, debates took place in a very limited amount of time which did not allow real debate, despite the fact that the amendments were numerous and substantively far-reaching and  the insufficient transparency as to the agenda and the content of the special committee’s discussions made it very difficult for interested stakeholders to follow and to effectively contribute to those discussions.

The input provided by the different sectors of the Romanian judiciary, after extensive and thorough consultations among members of prosecutor’s offices and courts throughout the country, as well as the Superior Magistracy Council and the professional associations, was only to a limited extent taken into account. Legal practitioners, including even the High Court of Cassation and Justice, warned that the entry into force of the amendments could have drastic negative consequences for the functioning of the Romanian criminal justice system. A more comprehensive process of discussion, based on dialogue with legal practitioners and society at large, and assessing in detail the impact of the numerous amendments, would have been not only advisable but even necessary.”

Furthermore, the debate prior to the adoption of the amendments by the two Chambers in the plenary session seems excessively fast, taking into account that more than 300 amendments were made to two particularly important and sensitive codes

Finally, the Commission cannot ignore the fact that the Parliament has adopted these controversial amendments to the criminal codes while they will directly affect pending judicial proceedings in which some parliamentarians are involved.

The Venice Commission’s main recommendation is that the Romanian authorities should re-assess the criminal codes amendment, arguing “their revision is necessary considering the numerous CCR decisions that are not transposed in the national legislation”.

The European experts also recommend Romania to re-assess the system of appointing and recalling high-ranking prosecutors, noting that, despite some improvement, the draft bills on judiciary risk generating pressures and undermining the independence of the judiciary system.

Read the full report here.

About Alina Grigoras Butu