Maria Frunze: 4,000 cases are on hold at Centru branch of Chisinau Court. IPN interview

The justice sector in the Republic of Moldova reached an impasse. The courts of law have an increased workload as the expired duties of tens of judges weren’t extended up to the age limit, as the law provides. Hearings in some of the cases haven’t been held for two years. How many convictions are pronounced annually against Moldova? What happens to the cases distributed to the judges whose duties expired meanwhile? Who pays the damages awarded by the ECHR when the rights of Moldovan citizens from the Transnistrian region are violated? These and other subjects were discussed in a video interview conducted by Octavian Bratosin with judge Maria Frunze of the Chisinau Court, who is one of the candidates admitted to the contest to fill the post of member of the Superior Council of Magistracy.

IPN: Dear Missis Maria Frunze, where is the Republic of Moldova now as regards the ECHR and the human rights in the Republic of Moldova”?

Maria Frunze:
The Republic of Moldova ratified the European Convention in 1997 and this took effect the same year. In ten days, it will be 25 years of the start of its implementation. A progress report is published annually. The report for 2021 shows that the ECHR examined over 44,000 applications. More than half of them were filed against the Russian Federation and Turkey. Most of the convictions were pronounced against the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Romania. At the opposite pole, there is Finland and Ireland with no conviction. Since 1997 until 2021, the Republic of Moldova had 451 convictions at the ECHR, about 20 convictions a year on average. Last year, the ECHR pronounced 68 convictions. The large number of convictions is due to the rise in the number of applications following the increase in the legal education level of the citizens and the professional training of lawyers.

IPN: This means that the Moldovan citizens are increasingly aware of their rights and of the violation of these rights. What rights are most often violated in our country?

Maria Frunze:
The non-fulfillment of court decisions that falls under Article 6 of the European Conventions is the most frequent violation. Among other often violations are the non-observance of the reasonable case examination timeframe, existence of inhuman and degrading conditions, use of torture, inefficient investigation of cases of ill-treatment and death of persons.

IPN: These convictions affect the budget as the Republic of Moldova annually pays millions of euros damages because the state institutions didn’t do their job or did it defectively. What can be done for these damages to be reduced? What kinds of condemnations can be really reduced in number?

Maria Frunze:
The convictions can be avoided if the authorities take measures to solve particular systemic problems, such as the detention conditions. The Government raised the building of a new penitentiary. In 2015, the ECHR passed its judgment in the first quasi-pilot case against the Republic of Moldova and entrusted the authorities with the task of working out internal mechanisms for compensating for and preventing violations referring to the inhuman and degrading detention conditions, given the large number of cases pending at the ECHR. In 2018, there were adopted normative documents to this effect and today we have several mechanisms for compensating detainees for such violations. The judge applies this mechanism by reducing the sentence of culprits if the existence of inhuman and degrading detention conditions is ascertained. But these are only compensation mechanisms not yet prevention mechanisms.

IPN: Does this mean that the detention conditions continue being substandard, while the prisoners get milder punishments if they give up notifying the ECHR of the inhuman detention conditions?

Maria Frunze:
Exactly. The ECHR statistics show the number of convictions for inhuman detention conditions and based on Article 6, non-execution of court decisions diminished owing to the adopted internal mechanisms – Law No. 87 and reduction of the punishment of convicts. But this does not mean that the state does not pay for these violations. This happens through the agency of the sentences pronounced by the national courts.

IPN: It means this is a temporary solution to a problem that needs to be addressed and solved.

Maria Frunze:
Yes. The authorities started already to take measures as regards the reasonable case examination timeframe, to reduce the workload in courts. The implementation of mediation in civil and criminal case is another aspect. A problem is also the provision of medical assistance in penitentiaries and this was ascertained by the ECHR.

IPN: A large part of the complaints were filed by Moldovan citizens from the left side of the Nistru. Meanwhile, the Transnistrian administration adopted a so-called law that bans locals from going to constitutional and international courts. What can the Republic of Moldova do to protect its citizens from the left side of the Nistru and to watch over the observance of their rights?

Maria Frunze:
When ratifying the European Convention, the Republic of Moldova introduced a reserve clause and notified that it will be unable to ensure the observance of the European Convention’s provisions concerning the omissions and the actions taken by the self-styled Transnistrian authorities. This way, when the Republic of Moldova is convicted for violations committed in the Transnistrian region, the ECHR collects the awarded damages from the Russian Federation. Thirteen judgments were passed by the ECHR against the Republic of Moldova last year for violations of rights of persons from the Transnistrian region and the money awarded in respect of pecuniary and/or non-pecuniary damage was levied from Russia. The self-proclaimed authorities in Tiraspol are not recognized in the Republic of Moldova, including the documents adopted by these. Recently, the Republic of Moldova was convicted by the ECHR because the mother of four wasn’t awarded a benefit by the Moldovan authorities for the reason that she received a similar benefit from the unrecognized Transnistrian authorities. If we do not recognize the bodies constituted on the left side of the Nistru, we cannot recognize the documents issued by these.

IPN: Let’s also raise the justice sector reform. At what stage is this reform now?

Maria Frunze:
I have worked for 12 years in the judicial system and this system has been continuously reformed in the period. The pre-vetting commission is now assessing the integrity of candidates for the posts of member of the SCM and SCP. We hope the commission in the near future will announce its first decisions concerning the assessment of candidates.

IPN: Meanwhile, tens of judges, including you, hadn’t their suspended duties extended for you to be able to work. What happened to the cases entrusted to you and to the persons involved in these cases?

Maria Frunze:
On March 17, 2022, the duties of 44 judges expired. In summer, 13 of my colleagues met with refusal to have their duties extended up to the age limit. The independence of justice is one of the mandatory conditions for the rule of law to be ensured in a state. A number of international institutions and NGOs in the Republic of Moldova warned that the existence of the probation period goes against the independence of justice, but this is a guarantee offered not only to judges, but also to those who go to court so that these enjoy efficient legal proceedings. On April 1, 2022, the amendments to the Constitution by which the probation period for judges was excluded took effect. The Government, by its informative note to the law to amend the Constitution, showed that the requirement to confirm the appointment after a period of probation goes against the principle of independence of judges. This was confirmed by a Constitutional Court decision of December 2021, which noted that the period of probation violates the independence of judges.

IPN: I will return to my question: What happens now to the cases entrusted to you and your colleagues whose duties expired?

Maria Frunze:
At the Centru Court, there are 15 judges with expired duties. They have 4,000 cases that were put on hold. No hearings are held. It is minus 15 judges in Centru district where over 35,000 cases are tried annually. This workload is distributed to the active colleagues. In summer, there were about ten active judges. Now there are 22 judges. Over 35,000 cases are annually examined at the Centru branch of the Chisinau Court. By 350-400 applications are filed daily and the 22 judges are assigned by 15-30 cases daily. This is a very large workload. Furthermore, they have to deal with tens of applications for accelerating the examination of cases filed by persons featured in the 4,000 cases pending at judges with the suspended duties. There are no mechanisms for solving the given problems. Naming the judges to post up to the age limit can be a viable mechanism.

IPN: Is there a risk that this situation will lead to an increase in the number of complaints to the ECRH about the violation of articles of the European Convention?

Maria Frunze:
In some of the cases, hearings haven’t been held for two years. This leads to the violation of the reasonable case examination timeframe. This falls under Article 6 of the European Convention. But we have a national remedy - Law 87 on compensation for the damage caused by the delay in the examination of cases. The number of lawsuits filed based on law No. 87 can rise. This will lead to a heavier workload in courts. The Government should urgently take measures or we will have new convictions at the ECHGR and a lot of judgments passed by the courts of the Republic of Moldova based on law No. 87.

IPN: Thank you for your answers.

The interview entitled “Republic of Moldova and ECHR, how the human rights are respected” was produced by IPN News Agency in the framework of the project “Support for the Justice Reform through multimedia coverage of cases of alleged injustice”.

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