Ilie Chirtoacă: If Moldova does not fulfill EU conditions concerning justice sector, it cannot continue on path of European integration

“The justice sector reform is a difficult process that implies rather radical measures. This causes particular resistance to change. How does this resistance manifest itself inside the system? What can be done to overcome the obstacles? What are the priorities of the reform for the next months? Was justice done in the case of Andrei Braguța, the young man who died five years ago while in remand detention? These and other questions were answered by Ilie Chirtoacă, director of the Integrity and Anticorruption Program of the Legal Resources Center from Moldova, in a video interview conducted by Octavian Bratosin.

IPN: Recently, Chisinau hosted the Justice Sector Reform and Anticorruption Forum. Why was such a forum necessary and what are the conclusions concerning the state of affairs in the justice sector?

Ilie Chirtoacă: The forum is a national platform that brings together decision makers, including ministers, the President, civil society, experts from the field, who discuss the most important reforms, the commitments undertaken by the government and how this reform is implemented. The forum is also an opportunity for discussing the drawbacks and what can be done better, new appropriate ideas that can be borrowed from other countries to efficiently fight corruption and to build the citizens’ confidence in the justice sector. We hold this forum on an annual basis and can see the developments: during the first years we discussed what we should do, but this year we for the first time discussed the launched reforms, including the extraordinary assessment, this pre-vetting. Another objective of the forum is to maintain this pressure, in a positive sense, on the authorities so that they do not give up the reform. As surveys show, the citizens of the Republic of Moldova, even if they are preoccupied with the lack of jobs and poverty, they are attentive to the phenomenon of corruption. It has been among the top five concerns for several years. Even if the forum is probably regarded as high-level discussions, it generates particular progress. At least the three previous editions and this year’s edition point to this. I want a lot the next edition of the forum to focus on other reforms or possibly on the assessments of the reforms under implementation.

IPN: You say that this forum usually involves political decision makers, representatives of civil society. I know that this also involved President Maia Sandu, who warned that the swiftness with which the Republic of Moldova will join the European Union depends on the success of the justice sector reform. President Sandu also spoke about the existence of persons in the system, who sabotage and hamper the reform. Is this a serious issue? How dangerous is it for the citizens and the state?

Ilie Chirtoacă: I will take things in turn. Yes, the justice sector reform is a precondition of the EU for advancing towards accession following the granting of the candidate country status. Practically six of the nine conditions imposed by the EU refer to the justice sector reform and this means that this reform matters a lot not only for us, civil society and the citizens, but also for the development partners that will eventually welcome us into this European family. Missis Sandu spoke about those who sabotage in the forum and also in the meeting of the Security Council and provided several details about those who delay the process and this surely happens also because the system puts up resistance. The envisioned measures are rather radical and include an extraordinary assessment of judges and prosecutors, those who enjoy irremovabilty, impendence guarantees. That’s why this resistance existed earlier and is felt now too. The resistance is probably channeled in a number of ways. There is a connection between the bomb threats and the postponement of particular trials. There are ties between the public systems that do not work at customs posts and the justice sector reform. So, the reform moves on and this movement causes particular inconvenience, especially for those who until now controlled the justice system, as there are also international reports that speak about this obedience, hierarchy, lack of independence and this ultimately points to the resistance existing inside. The solutions were discussed at the forum. Courageous solutions are necessary. This commission was set up as a first step in the extraordinary assessment of judges and prosecutors and its mission is difficult – to determine the financial and ethical integrity of those who want to form part of the administrative bodies of the magistracy and prosecution service. When these entities are cleaned, they can help clean the system from down to up. We wish them good luck. We will monitor these processes and our goal, of civil society organizations, is to keep our finger on the pulse, as I mentioned the positive pressure above, so that the authorities fully deliver on their promises.

IPN: President Maia Sandu said the new Superior Council of Magistracy and the new Superior Council of Prosecutors should be constituted by the end of this year. Is this an achievable objective?

Ilie Chirtoacă: In the case of the SCM, I consider this is possible as the process started and the candidates are being assessed. After the SCM is formed, it will be possible to hold the general assembly of judges that elects the justice system managers and specialized bodies that, for their part, select, promote and assess the performance and can practically reset the system that is now somehow torpid. As regards the SCP, we would like the same to happen here as the general assembly of prosecutors is to be convened to choose the candidates for serving on these very important bodies that deal with selection and career but the qualification of staff is the biggest problem here. Besides, a small number of people need to carry out broad assessments. Judging by the pace so far, there is a big risk that this will not be done on time.

IPN: They often speak about cases of abuse in the justice system at the investigation or prosecution stage. The death of Andrei Braguța, who died after being beaten cruelly while in remand detention, is a well-known case. It happened five years ago. What has happened in this case until now? Where the suspects punished?

Ilie Chirtoacă: The Braguța case is regrettable and emblematic. It tested practically the whole system and this didn’t cope as a person died while in state custody, in the custody of agents. He was a person who had this vulnerability, a mental health problem, and the system didn’t know how to react. According to the international standards, when a person in state custody dies, the state is the first that should provide explanations. There was a lot of hesitation in this case and the investigation itself started much too late. Five years have passed since that tragic event, but not much progress has been made in this case. Several positive things occurred yet in the period: standard operating procedures and clearer rules were introduced and the police officers were trained how to act when they arrest a person and what elements they should take into account, primarily so as to see if there is additional vulnerability as such a person cannot be remanded in custody. This was done with the assistance of donors. The police officers were trained. Surely, this is not the only aspect that will ensure success. The investigations should have established the facts and identified those who are responsible for the death of Braguța. Except for the shift head – the police officer who was in charge of the wellbeing of Andrei Braguța – no person was convicted by a definite court decision as a result of the over 100 hearings. Policemen, guards, medical staff are investigated but there is no final verdict that would clearly show that a person is definitely to blame. The Braguța case revealed the weaknesses of the system. The Republic of Moldova was assessed by international organizations, at the level of the United Nations, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and the case of Braguța, I say it as a jurist, is a lesson teaching that the persons under arrest need to have their essential rights, including medical care, guaranteed and the death of a person or the causing of injuries to a person in police custody should be investigated appropriately. There is a big risk that these were caused by state agents. At political level, those from the administration of the penitentiary department or the Ministry of Justice bear responsibility, especially because during the first days they informed that the person died from pneumonia and this was actually not true.

IPN: As you referred to the judge who issued an arrest warrant, what happened to the persons involved in this case? I refer to prosecutors, the judge and the lawyer for the defense?

Ilie Chirtoacă: I don’t know if I have the most updated information but the judge was removed from the system. There was a disciplinary procedure that he challenged. He said that based on the information he received then from the prosecutor, he took an objective decision. I cannot say anything about the prosecutor, but there is information that the person was dismissed. The lawyer was stripped of license but he later regained it. However, the Supreme Court of Justice withdrew his license and he can longer practice as a lawyer as faults were identified also in the provision of assistance. These are minimum things that should have been done. We should not forget that a lot of persons were involved in this process – guards, police officers, doctors who examined – and there is a protocol saying that the prosecutors need to be informed when injuries are detected. So, at the moment I cannot say if the list of those to blame is sufficient, at least for the family members.

IPN: As you mentioned the medical personnel that were to provide assistance and to inform the superiors, can you tell us if particular measures were taken against medical staff of penitentiary No.16?

Ilie Chirtoacă: As far as I know, there are ongoing investigations and it is normal for these to last as the case is complex. We do not want televised justice in nine months. We want final court judgments. At the moment, the persons are tried but nobody serves sentences yet. At system level, with the assistance of the development partners, given this emblematic case, standard operational procedures were introduced. These guidebooks explain step by step what should be done in such a case. Based on this case, additional procedures were added by order of the police chief and medical personnel. The personnel were trained how to respond. Is this enough? Probably not but this is at least a step towards preventing such situations in the future.

IPN: You spoke about those conditions imposed by the EU for the accession process. Six of them refer to the justice sector reform. The Government submitted an action plan to Brussels by which it responded to those requests by EU. What are the Republic of Moldova’s chances of fulfilling these conditions so that we so not discuss another justice sector reform in several years?

Ilie Chirtoacă: The plan is very ambitious, with a time limit set for this yearend. It implies particular rather painful reforms that are not based on many practical examples existing in other states. An example is a law on de-oligarchization for identifying those who control particular systems and for diminishing their influence. There is no such a bill yet. When it will be drafted, it should be proposed for public consultations, for expert appraisal. The Venice Commission or other international organizations will need to see if such laws are compatible in a state with the rule of law. The actions are ambitious, complicated but there are no other impediments. There is a comfortable parliamentary majority and political will. In the case of the forum, at least we were informed that there are particular advantages – those from the EU impose these conditions but also offer financing mechanism and expertise. In the forum, representatives of the European Commission informed us that we are not alone in this process and they want to see a success story in the Republic of Moldova. They want the justice sector reform to be implemented till the end, not only by legislation but also by practical institutions. There is that opportunity that the Republic of Moldova should take. It will be hard. Probably not all the measures will be taken until the end of this year but they are a precondition for us to take the next step in the accession process. If it does not fulfill such conditions, the Republic of Moldova cannot go on.

The interview entitled “Cases of injustice and the way in which they influenced the amendment of national legislation” was conducted as part of IPN News Agency’s project “Support for the Justice Reform through multimedia coverage of cases of alleged injustice”.

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