Massive street protests erupted in the Romanian capital of Bucharest this weekend, after the country’s ruling Social Democrat party announced an emergency decree that would strip prosecutors of much of their power, and remove oversight of a prosecuting unit that investigates the judiciary. The party has alleged that the reforms are necessary to prevent “abuses” by the judiciary. Critics say the move is designed to intimidate judges and compromise judicial independence and the rule of law.
Last week, Romania’s lower house passed legislation that would restrict the independence of its judiciary. Now the country’s senate has approved the same bill. As Reuters notes,
The three bills jointly limit magistrates’ independence and set up a special unit to probe crimes committed by magistrates. This makes magistrates the only professional category with a prosecuting unit dedicated to investigating them.
The bill passed on the same day that the European Union decided to begin hearings against Poland for imposing restrictions on its judiciary.
Romania’s lower house has passed controversial legislation that will overhaul its justice system — legislation that has been widely criticized as threatening judicial independence and facilitating corruption.
From the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project:
The [Romanian] legislation changes the manner in which magistrates are overseen and chief prosecutors are appointed—under the bill, the president has the right to vet prosecutors.
It also changes the source responsible for compensating for judicial errors from state funds to the judge responsible in sentencing. Experts claim this could possibly affect judges’ biases and tendencies in court rulings.
The lower house approved the bill with 179 out of 269 votes.
The European Commission and thousands of magistrates expressed concern over the legislation, saying it would allow political influence within the judicial system. Thousands of Romanians repeatedly protested against the proposed bill for its alleged power to hinder the fight against corruption. Demonstrations on Sunday drew over 10,000 people to take the streets of Bucharest, Cluj and other major cities.
“Justice, not corruption!” protesters chanted, according to ABC News.
The legislation is still pending in the upper house.
This week, the European Commission issued its latest reports on the justice systems of two EU member states, Romania and Bulgaria. Both states have made slow progress in positively reforming their judicial systems, but the Commission concluded that in both states, momentum for reform was lost in 2017.
Both countries have tried to put a positive spin on the report, noting they still have work to do. But they will be under renewed pressure to move closer to the Commission’s anti-corruption and transparency goals, especially in light of the significant threats to judicial independence that emerged in neighboring Poland earlier this year. The Commission’s mandate to monitor reform in both countries expires in 2019.
The full Commission reports can be found here.
In Europe and the Middle East, several governments are taking authoritarian approaches to their judiciary, largely by creating frameworks under which judges can be removed or punished by other members of popularly elected branches. A few updates after the jump. Continue reading “Judicial independence under threat in Poland, Romania, Palestinian Authority”