The Romanian Chamber of Deputies adopted on December 11 a bill that regulates the activity of judges and prosecutors and is seen as threatening the independence of magistrates.
The adoption of the bill came despite mass protests held in Bucharest and other cities against the parliament’s plans to amend judicial legislation. Critics claim the changes will weaken Romania’s fight against corruption. The changes have also been criticised by local magistrates and the European Commission, while concerns have been raised by the president of Romania
The bill was adopted with 179 votes in favour and 90 against. The changes were supported by the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) and Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), Hotnews.ro reported. It will now be sent to the upper house of the parliament, the Senate.
One controversial amendment passed by the lawmakers stipulates that the state takes action (by default) against magistrates who created damages by their actions taken in bad faith. Under current regulations, the state has the option to take action against magistrates.
Another controversial amendment regards the elimination of the “independent” position of prosecutors. Under the revised form of the text, the word “independently” is eliminated from the paragraph regarding prosecutors’ activity being carried out under the authority of the ministry of justice.
Prosecutors and judges are forbidden to make critical remarks regarding the other state authorities under another controversial amendment endorsed by lawmakers. The president will lose the right to return the nomination of top magistrates under the revised regulations, and the president will no longer have the right to refuse the appointment of judges and prosecutors.
The MPs also adopted a bill that lifts a ban preventing MPs who have violated the bill regarding conflict of interest from holding office.
The Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) of the Council of Europe has asked the head of the delegation of Romania to submit, by January 15, 2018, information on the preparation of an ad hoc report concerning the draft legislative amendments concerning the judiciary. They should be examined in March next year.
The EC noted in its CVM report on Romania last month that reform momentum was lost this year, slowing down the fulfilment of some of the recommendations made by the EC, and with the risk of re-opening issues which the January 2017 report had considered as fulfilled. Challenges to judicial independence have also been a persistent source of concern, the commission warned in its report.
“Some of the proposed changes covered issues like the role of the Judicial Inspection and the personal responsibility of magistrates, as well as the appointment of senior prosecutors: issues which touch on judicial independence and where changes raised questions about whether the January 2017 report assessment with regard to progress on the independence of the judicial system would have to be reconsidered. The strong negative reaction from the judiciary and parts of civil society focused heavily on the issue of judicial independence,” the report noted at that time.