State of justice sector reform on granting of EU candidate status: Conception, practical actions, effects, general perception. IPN debate

The European Council’s last week decision by which the Republic of Moldova was granted the EU candidate status offers Moldovan society new chances of improving the living conditions up to the European level, but also sets new tasks for achieving this objective. In a sufficiently natural way, the chances and tasks are greatly related to the justice sector reform, more exactly to the reformation of this process. The process of reforming justice today is promoted, approved of and supported by some, rejected and challenged by others and less understood and felt by the third part of society. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate “State of justice sector reform in the Republic of Moldova on the granting of the EU candidate status: Conception, practical actions, effects, general perception” discussed the current stage and the future tasks of the justice sector reform in Moldova.

The executive director of the Association for Participatory Democracy ADEPT Igor Boțan said the European Commission published ten conditions that the Republic of Moldova must fulfill to fully enjoy the EU candidate status and these conditions need to be met until the end of 2022. Among the conditions are to comprehensively do the justice sector reform, to deal with all the shortcomings identified by OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe, including the Venice Commission, to fight corruption at all levels with the involvement of the National Anticorruption Center.

“Among other conditions are the fulfillment of the de-oligarchization commitment by eliminating the excessive influence of all kinds of groups from the economic sphere, strengthening of the fight against organized crime, recovery of the assets stolen from the banking sector and during illegally held rounds to privatize public property, the public administration reform, which is very important, completion of the financial management reform, involvement of civil society in all the processes in the reformation of public life in the Republic of Moldova, observance of human rights, of the rights of minorities, women, as the national legislation provides. All these things need to be implemented,” stated Igor Boțan.

According to the expert, the justice sector occupies the central place in the government program and its reformation plays a key role, alongside the digitization process. Among the most important institutions involved in the process of reforming the justice sector, which are stipulated in this program and in the action plant, are the Government, the Ministry of Justice, the Superior Council of Magistracy, the Superior Council of Prosecutors.

Judge Livia Mitrofan said the reforms in the system were launched in 2009 and really formed part of those groups of actions and they hoped these reforms would improve things in the country. “The then minister of justice said that 70% of the judges are corrupt and the reform was imminent. The process covered all the segments, the admission and promotion method, system management. There was drafted a new law on disciplinary liability and the penal, civil and other procedures were modified. But we reached 2022 and they continue to discuss the same justice sector reform,” stated the judge.

“I don’t know if it’s better or is worse. Anyway, things changed in the judicial system. First of all, the people changed. I work at the Centru Branch of the Chisinau Court and 80% of our judges are young ones. The perception that the judiciary system is corrupt remained. If they permanently speak about corruption in the system, they people will anyway believe in the existence of this. But the system bears a part of the blame for the existence of such a perception and we should not deny this.”

According to the judge, the perception remained the same because the system is considerably passive – the judges didn’t react to particular events happening outside and inside the system. Everyone examined their own cases, arguing it is not their duty to speak about the problems experienced in the system. Such a position is wrong. When it was necessary, the system didn’t try to communicate with society and to clarify particular things. “When the reforms in the judicial system started, these derailed because of the persons promoted in the system. Things started to go differently and particular pressure started to be exerted in the system. There was this fear and everyone ultimately withdrew to their offices,” stated Livia Mitrofan. However, she considers that the judges have changed since 2019 and they are more vocal and active and they communicate and criticize.

Iulian Groza, executive director of the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE), said the change in the justice sector for this to be right and really just is not a demand of the European Union and is not made for the EU. The citizens clearly responded that they want a public system, a justice system that would fight impunity, would judge the corrupt persons, would stop the thefts and would make those who should serve the law, the country and the citizens more responsible. This desideratum became stronger in time as things change at the level of perception in society as well.

“The citizens, when they look at public institutions, have expectations of the system, of politicians, of the government as these should solve their daily problems. Injustice and impunity have been tolerated too much in the Republic of Moldova and the people surely got angry as these things made the glass full. We practically saw the response in the parliamentary elections of 2021. The people mandated politicians who didn’t necessarily promise a slam dunk, higher salaries and pensions. They mandated new people who would bring justice, would fight corruption. I think this matters a lot,” said Iulian Groza.

As to the conditions imposed by the European Commission for the country to be able to open accession negotiations, these reflect an initiated process. There is a strategy for ensuring the independence and integrity of justice, which was updated and adopted at the beginning of this year. The document stipulates a very clear framework of reforms and measures for ensuring the justice system is more integral and independent. There were started processes related to the justice reform with the implementation of transitory measures. “Even if in time the justice sector has been reformed and laws were adopted, things haven’t changed because the attitude of politicians with regard to justice, which has been used for own interests, hasn’t changed. The laws were presented as an accomplishment, but remained on paper and the approach is now extraordinary therefore,” stated the IPRE executive director.

The debate forms part of IPN Agency’s project “Support for the justice sector reform by covering high-profile cases of alleged injustice in multimedia format”.

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