22 years of strategic hesitations in justice

The Republic of Moldova reached the 22nd year of independence. The IPN Agency decided to present the accomplishments and failures in the country’s development in a number of articles. Representatives of the current government, experts, former and current politicians stated their views on the steps taken by Moldova after August 27, 1991.

Article No. 7 of the IPN series “Moldova-22. Steps forward and steps backward”, on the occasion of the Independence Day

In these 22 years, Moldova hesitated to do profound reforms in the legal system. This period was marked by strategic hesitations. The justice sector reform has always been hostage of political ambitions, while politicians’ constant attempts to control justice represent the most serious problem that should be dealt with.

Conserved reform

Constitutional Court president Alexandru Tanase, who was Minister of Justice in 2009-2011, said that the lack or rather the conservation of a profound justice reform hindered the building of a veritable state with the rule of law.

“In these 22 years of independence, Moldova tested a profound reform in the justice sector, which was stopped when the Communists came to power in 2001 and completely destroyed the judiciary by massively removing persons who had the qualification and moral integrity needed to serve as judges,” said the ex-minister. According to him, the legal system after 2001 struck a bargain with the power and thus the authorities tolerated the abuses committed in the system in exchange for favorable decisions taken by the judges of the power.

Sergiu Ostaf, director of the Resource Center for Human Rights (CReDO), considers that the justice sector in these 22 years of independence indisputably developed, but still has many shortcomings.

“In this period, Moldova covered an important road that is already irreversible. Regretfully, we now cannot speak about transformations and developments that are highly appreciated by the beneficiaries of the justice system as the level of confidence in the justice services is low and the experts continue to identify drawbacks in this sector. But even these changes wouldn’t have been made without the technical (shared experience and expertise) and financial assistance (comparable to the annual state budget) provided by the EU and the international European institutions,” stated Sergiu Ostaf.

According to him, one of the most serious faults of the Moldovan justice sector is the fact that the professional lustration wasn’t applied to the judges and prosecutors who discredited themselves and, as a result, discredited the legal system. “It is known that a part of the legal system is powerfully dominated by corporate self-protection interests that are backed by economic and political groups from outside. There were tolerated many persons with discredited past and with regressive views for developing a modern and responsible system. The system still does not manage to promote persons with vision and incontestable determination to executive posts in order to facilitate a profound change inside the system,” said Sergiu Ostaf.

Justice reform started un 2009

Alexandru Tanase said that the justice sector reform began in 2009. “I think that if the provisions included in the first government program of the alliance were implemented, Moldova might have a different justice sector,” he stated, adding that no reform measures have been taken during the last two years and there were launched different strategies and plans of action that will not produce results.

“The politicians must treat this issue very responsibly and must not transform the justice problem into competition or political settling of accounts.”

Sergiu Ostaf said the justice sector of Moldova underwent an essential institutional transformation and substantial development. At the same time, the transformation process wasn’t consistent and wasn’t brought to an end. The inconsistency of the changes caused stagnation and the vulnerability of the transformation process was exploited by political and oligarchic groups from inside and outside the system by ensuring the dominance of the conservative corporate-professional interests.

“As a result, the quality of justice is severely criticized, the level of the people’s confidence in the legal system is very low, the honest professionals working in the system face threats and risks, while the beneficiaries of the justice services consider justice practically inaccessible or even inexistent,” said Sergiu Ostaf.

Renewal of the judiciary

Alexandru Tanase said the judiciary should be renewed. Otherwise, no reform will produce results. “At least 70% of the judges must be replaced so as to create a critical mass favorable for the reform. The judges should be substituted by persons of another type, who speak foreign languages, finished better schools and haven’t been affected by corruption,” believes the former minister.

The CReDO director considers that the authorities should first of all ensure the autonomy and independence of the judicial system and the prosecution service. The penalties for breaking the professional ethics rules should be toughened up, while the efforts to identify situations of incompatibility must be stepped up.

Justice system as seen from outside

Alexandru Tanase said that at different stages, Moldova was regarded differently from outside. “Until 2001, the western partners considered Moldova a model for the justice sector reform. But things changed after 2001, when the judicial organization structure that existed until then was modified. The conception of the judiciary and law enforcement reform adopted in 1994, together with the Constitution, was abandoned. I think this is the greatest failure of the current government. They didn’t manage to return to that conception that was laid at the basis of the current Constitution. Sporadic, uncoordinated steps were taken. Thus, the perception outside the country is a rather sad one,” said Alexandru Tanase.

Sergiu Ostaf said the justice system that includes the judiciary and the prosecutors is regarded from a critical angle at foreign level. The decisions are very predictable, as their stability. The justice administration terms are very long. This causes justified fears as regards the guaranteeing of investments and property. “It is known that the judiciary system is deeply affected by corruption. Inadmissible influence is exerted on justice from outside,” said the representative of civil society. According to him, in its current state justice is regarded as one of the main obstacle to making progress on the path to Moldova’s European integration.

Irina Turcanu, IPN
August, 2013

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