Victoria Sanduța: I would like slogan of justice sector reform to be “People of good faith in key posts”. IPN interview

How do and if do judges become accomplices of politicians? Which of the three categories - judges, lawyers, prosecutors – are subject more to intimidation, interference and by who? What does the current composition of the SCM think? Is this able to clean up the system, to defend the judges? Is there corruption in the judicial system? Who corrupts who? Are most of the judges, prosecutors and lawyers part of the injustice mechanism? Answers to these and other questions can be found in Sabina Rebeja’s interview with judge Victoria Sanduța, president of the Association “Voice of Justice”.

– IPN: Missis Sanduța, you attracted public attention in July 2019, when you said publicly in the SCM meeting that you had been subject to pressure by your superiors. Also then, you named the SCM members “accomplices of Plahotniuc’s regime” and demanded that they should resign. What did it mean being accomplices of Vladimir Plahotniuc then?

– Victoria Sanduța: One should work inside a profession for a period to realize the vulnerabilities or weaknesses there. One of them is the very heavy workload. I consider this workload is created artificially, owing, in the best case, to the incompetence of the Superior Council of Magistracy (SCM), which is the self-managing body of the judiciary that is empowered to ensure the proper management of justice. Proper management of justice means delivery of high-quality justice to which one cannot have objections or has objections that are much smaller than now. As there is such a big distrust in justice among the people, it means the system is badly managed. […] inside the system I’ve got the impression that, regrettably, this vulnerability was created not out of incompetence, but intentionally by the members of the SCM who obey the political class and this is deplorable indeed. […] The Council accepted this position of subordination to the two powers of the state and this was evident even in the case of Domnica Manole, who took a decision with a powerful political connotation. By who was she excluded from the system? Not by the legislature or the executive as they cannot do this, but by those who should have protected her, which is the Superior Council of Magistracy. The reason for the exclusion wasn’t credible and it wasn’t legal either, as it turned out later.

– IPN: How is such complicity reached? By pressure, bribery or by inexplicable obedience that should not be typical of a person who enforces the law?

– Victoria Sanduța: Something like inexplicable obedience does not exist. We are humans and are vulnerable primarily to the financial factor and there were cases of bribery and traffic of influence and not only pecuniary, but also for advantages and not only personal ones, but also, for example, for members of the family. The same nepotism, Moldovan friendship. These are called influence peddling. […] Corruption also means unjust enrichment. The evident discrepancy between the living standards of a judge or prosecutor with their legally declared incomes is also an indicator of corruption. The problem is that those who should report and examine such acts do not do it and this is also condemnable […].

– IPN: Have you ever witnessed pressure on your colleagues, interference in activity? Which of the three categories - judges, lawyers, prosecutors – are subject more to intimidation, interference and by who?

– Victoria Sanduța: My colleagues told me about cases when they were pressed and intimidated by decision makers from inside the system, by court presidents and vice presidents, members of the Superior Council of Magistracy, by judges of the Supreme Court of Justice or the Appeals Court. They were pressed into taking particular decisions in cases and I encouraged them to declare this. But they realize that they should better not declare it as only they will suffer. Those who tried to intimidate them will not be punished and will be even promoted. A relevant classical example is Mihai Murguleț, the judge who was excluded from the system when he denounced the pressure exerted by a large number of people: the whole administration of the Chisinau City Court, presidents and vice presidents – six judges who are influential in the system. He denounced the influence exerted by the head of the Assessment Board who then served as the vice president of the Supreme Court of Justice, by the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, by the president of the Judicial Inspectorate […].

– IPN: When did you feel that pressure was being exerted on your activity and why do you think you became a victim of injustice?

– Victoria Sanduța: I didn’t become a victim of the system because I didn’t allow it. In 2019, I was transferred overnight to the Ciocana branch of the Chisinau City Court by the president of the court Radu Țurcanu, who told me then that this was done on the instruction of the SCJ president Ion Druță. […].I then realized that it happened because I was a vocal judge who called things by their name and who broke the then tradition according to which the judge was to keep silence and to examine the cases and it wasn’t their business to say how they think the system should be managed. This is wrong. Each judge is responsible for how the judicial system works as they are members of the General Assembly of Judges, which is the supreme body of judicial self-management that delegates other judges to manage the system in upper courts […].

– IPN: Do you agree with the assertion that a part of the judges, prosecutors and lawyers are part of the injustice mechanism? If yes, why does it happen so? If no, why is there such a perception?

– Victoria Sanduța: Yes, because we have public cases involving lawyers who resorted to influence peddling. They acted as intermediaries in the process of transmitting money from the client to the judge or prosecutor, while the judge or prosecutor, for their part, sold the decision or the judicial document that was necessary. Therefore, these can all be called players in this process of injustice, but can also be called players in the process of corruption. In fact, anyone can be a player in the process of corruption. This is probably meant when they say so, but I do not generalize. I don’t say that only the lawyers or only the judges or prosecutors are to blame for this injustice. It is important that the persons who hold the post of judge or prosecutor are people of good faith. I would like the slogan of the justice sector reform to be “People of good faith in key posts, in decisive posts in the judicial system and in the prosecution service”. When there is good faith, no person would dare to use the law, to distort the law in the own interests or the interests of a small group of persons [...].

– IPN: In time, the ministers of justice, judges, lawyers, prosecutors agreed that the justice sector reform failed? Why do you think this happened? Who is afraid of a reformed justice sector?

– Victoria Sanduța: Evidently, there is a pressing need of a reform, improvement, change. You can call it as you want. What I want to say now in public is that this change cannot come from outside. It must come from inside. A real change will occur only when it comes from inside to outside, not vice versa. They way in which the politicians want to reform the justice sector is an attempt to change the master: former politicians for current politicians who say that “we will decide who of the judges are upright and who must be removed”. The external evaluation is an erroneous concept that is doomed to failure. It is first of all not a constitutional instrument and mechanism […].The cleanup of the judicial system is recognition form inside, by judges, that there is a high level of corruption inside the judiciary [...].

– IPN: Can the politicians help reform the justice sector and change things in the judicial system? What role should society play here?

– Victoria Sanduța: Society should be courageous and should denounce all the cases of abuse that they know. But before being courageous, society should admit that there are people who are usually of good faith in all the circumstances of life. But when a personal problem appears, they somehow adopt double standards as if they want to make sure that the case is solved in their favor [...] That’s why society should realize that the current political class and also the judges and prosecutors are the exact copy of society. Those persons didn’t appear from nowhere. They are someone’s sons, parents, brothers, sisters, grandchildren, cousins... The person, society should not make effort to influence things, if the case reaches court […] When the Superior Council of Magistracy is changed and broad processes to modify the judiciary are launched, the Council should establish a relationship of cooperation with the legislature and the government. Why? Because the legislature is the one that adopts laws and when the SCM ascertains legal impediments, cooperation between these powers should exist so as to initiate consultations with Parliament. Or the SCM should have the right of legislative initiative and should formulate proposals to contribute to improving the situation, and should ultimately ensure fair justice […]

– IPN: Now a question we put to all our invitees – how can the ordinary people obtain justice in the current conditions in the Republic of Moldova? Do you have a set of practical recommendations, based on your experience and not only?

– Victoria Sanduța: Definitely, I call on each citizen to defend their rights by the existing legal ways. Not to give up before filing a lawsuit, thinking that “justice will anyway not be done to me”. You cannot know beforehand. If you have a problem, file a suit. If you have a complaint or an objection, if you were intimidated by a public functionary, file a complaint to the responsible bodies, to the head of the given public institution. They are obliged to react [...]. Ultimately, justice will be done and I tell you this from my own experience. I was in litigation with the own system and could show that justice exists and the law works if you believe in it.

Other aspects of injustice witnessed in the country, how the judge considers the problems in the system can be solved and how the three powers, the legislative, executive and judicial ones, can cooperate can be seen in the video variant of the interview with judge Victoria Sanduța, president of the Association “Voice of Justice”.

The interview was held in the framework of IPN’s project “Exposing Injustice through Multimedia”.

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