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A premiere/ Council of Europe announces urgent evaluation of amendments to Romanian laws on judiciary

de Vladimir Ionescu , 18.12.2017

The law package on the judiciary will be assessed by the Council of Europe, the institution announced on Monday. The reason, explained by the Council itself – is the concern that “the changes could affect the fight against corruption and the independence of the judiciary.”

Council of Europe’s press release:

Three legislative proposals on the judiciary have recently been submitted to the Romanian Parliament, to be adopted under an emergency procedure.

Several institutions in Romania and abroad have expressed their concern that these proposals affect the efficiency of the fight against corruption and undermine the independence of the judiciary.

Also, related to Poland, similar concerns have been expressed regarding two draft laws on the reorganization of the Supreme Court and the National Council of Justice.

The decision was taken through an ad hoc procedure, used in exceptional circumstances, when there are real threats to alter and lower standards in the fight against corruption in GRECO affiliated countries. The decision was taken at the level of the European Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), a body affiliated to the Council of Europe.

GRECO states that it is the first time to appeal to the recently introduced Article 34 of the Regulation on the “Ad hoc procedure for exceptional circumstances”.

The article can be applied when there are concerns about an institutional reform, a legislative initiative or a procedural change, concerns that they might lead to the “serious violation” of an anti-corruption standard in a member country of the Council of Europe.

Assessments will also be made for Poland, an EU state where similar interventions are being discussed to alter the judiciary, also under the pretext of reforming the judiciary.

Officials of the Romanian state are expected to provide, by January 15 at the latest, information on the laws on the judiciary currently under the parliamentary debate. At the next meeting of the Group, in March, a report will be adopted, to be sent to the target country.

The evaluation is confidential, but the Council may decide to publish a summary.

The Council of Europe (not the European Council – which includes EU heads of state and government) is the largest organization on human rights and the rule of law on the continent. It includes 47 member states, of which 28 are member states of the European Union.

All the member states of the Council of Europe have joined the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty designed to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Romania acceded to the Council of Europe (CE) following the decision taken on October 4, 1993, formulated by the resolution no. 37/1993 of the Committee of Ministers of the CE concerning the invitation of our country to become a member of the Council of Europe. On October 7, 1993, Romania signed statutory documents and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms during the first CE Summit (Vienna). The accession to the CE, an organization based on the principles of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, for the values of democracy and the rule of law, has been a mandatory step in promoting Romania’s accession to the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Laws on judiciary adopted as a matter of urgency

The special parliamentary committee on the amendments to the laws on the judiciary, headed by PSD deputy Florin Iordache, presented on October 31 the drafts with the initial amendments foreseen for three essential regulations in the field:

  • Law 303/2004 on the status of judges and prosecutors
  • Law 304/2004 on the organization of the judiciary
  • Law 317 on the Superior Council of Magistracy

Since then, the majority coalition has succeeded in imposing a rapid rhythm of a so-called debate on the laws, so that last week, it has been adopted, by articles, the first draft, the one on the status of the magistrates.

The final vote has been postponed, though, as at 22.45, when the meeting has been closed, after almost 13 hours of so-called debates, only 140 MPs were still in the room. A quorum of 165 MPs is required for a final vote, and 165 votes were needed for the adoption, as this is an organic law.

The provisions with the highest stake for the independence of the system were adopted in a much more dangerous form than in the draft submitted on August 23 by Minister Tudorel Toader and the version approved by the Special Committee on the Laws on the Judiciary.

The final vote will be given on Monday evening on Law 303, after a solemn meeting dedicated to the commemoration of former King Michael I, although the MPs initially voted to be held on Tuesday at 12.00.

Also, the special commission headed by Iordache finalized the discussion of the amendments to Law 304 and approved the report that is favourable to the draft containing the proposals imposed by PSD and ALDE and quickly switched afterwards to the amendments to Law 317.

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