The last but one time that the Moldovan judges came together for a general assembly was four years ago, even if the given meetings should be held once a year, according to common law. The recent General Assembly of Judges of March 17 was attended by 330 judges of the 425 working in the system and the invoked reason why the Superior Council of Magistracy (SCM), the self-managing body of judges, didn’t convene the judges at annual meeting was the pandemic. The agenda accepted by the General Assembly consisted of two subjects: approval of the amendment to the regulations on the functioning of the General Assembly of Judges and election of permanent members to the Superior Council of Magistracy. After long debates, none of these subjects was clarified and the meeting of judges was put off until after Easter.
A form of resistance of the judiciary
After the meeting was put off, a number of commentators said that they are disappointed with the behavior of judges, while others, admitting one way or another the big problems faced by the uniformed Moldovan justice sector, made common cause with the dissatisfied judges, accusing the government and President Maia Sandu of attempting to politically subdue the judiciary. Anyway, the postponement of the election of the representatives of judges in the SCM by six weeks when most of the members of this Council tendered their resignations makes the SCM nonfunctional and leads to the blockage of the justice sector reform.
The postponement of the election of SCM members was motivated by the existence of a number of challenges referring to the pre-vetting decisions, which haven’s been yet examined. The vetting within the justice sector reform implies a thorough examination of the whole property and of the private life of judges, being a key element of the fight against corruption in the system. At the initial stage of the procedure, a rather large number of judges failed to pass the pre-vetting. Some of them disputed the Pre-Vetting Commission’s decision, but the examination of challenges is delayed by the resignation of the four judges of the Supreme Court of Justice whose task was to examine the challenges. This way, the en mass resignations in the Moldovan judicial system seem to be a form of resistance of the Moldovan judiciary to the anti-corruption measures within the ongoing justice sector reform at a time when some of the judges already failed the integrity test.
Tell me who chairs the meeting and I will tell you who attends the meeting
An additional confirmation of this supposition was provided by the practice used to choose the administration of the General Assembly, when a judge with an irreproachable reputation wasn’t elected for such a post even if he was earlier named the best judge in the country by the SCM. Instead, the Assembly by a majority of votes chose as chair of the meeting a judge who failed the integrity test of the Pre-Vetting Commission as he was unable to justify a number of his possessions. At first sight, this was an insignificant detail, but taken together with other aspects, it clearly revealed the predominant predispositions in the judicial corporation of the Republic of Moldova.
Most of the speeches given by judges at the Assembly were marked by anger seasoned with pretensions about the conditions and payment of their work, less about the public interest to swiftly and efficiently solve the problems in justice – appointment of judges, faster settlement of cases, taking of important decisions related to the management of the judicial system and, in particular, the restoration of the image stained with reasonable suspicions of corruption in the judicial system. Instead of becoming a partner of the political class in the reformation of the justice sector, most of the judges rather seem to be opposing the reform.
Among the noisiest speeches against the reform in the debates was the speech of the female judge who passed one of the most scandalous judgments by political order in the history of the Moldovan jurisprudence, sentencing Valeriu Pasat to ten years in jail in the MIGs case. The judgment was annulled after years of detention as the accused was convicted both by national courts and by international courts. It is hard to believe that the owner of such judicial background has the moral right to teach public lessons of professional correctness and sincere preoccupation with the administration of justice.
“People are afraid of him more than of bandits...”
The problems in the judicial system became the main impediment in the European integration of the Republic of Moldova. Sociological surveys yearly show a constant decline of society’s confidence in the justice system. Corruptions in the justice sector became endemic and such a state of affairs has lasted for decades, contaminating primarily the judiciary. The judicial system of the Republic of Moldova is seriously ill and this cannot be cured with own internal forces. Several years ago, one of the ministers of justice in Chisinau in one of the General Assembly of Judges made the following confession: “I was informed that the president of the court in the given locality owns a particular number of possessions, shops, lots of land, shares in wineries, while his son practices as a notary in the same locality. The people are afraid of him more than of bandits”.
The case depicted above is not an unordinary one for many representatives of the Moldovan judiciary caste. Therefore, the dominant reaction inside the judiciary to the activities of the pre-vetting and vetting commissions, which consist of three national and three international experts each, is not at all accidental and is perceived by many judges as “amazing” in relation to the assessment of their financial state or the ways in which the owned property was obtained. During long periods of time, the Moldovan judiciary fulfilled illegal political orders. Instead, the state ignored the unjust enrichment of judges by acts of corruption. But after the Republic of Moldova obtained the EU candidate status, the European Commission formulated nine conditions whose fulfillment is mandatory. Four of them refer to the justice sector reform. From that moment, the pro-European government has been condemned to do the justice sector reform without any delay, primarily by fighting corruption in the judicial system and the prosecution service.
An exceptional state is actually declared in justice sector
Immediately after the General Assembly of Judges put off the election of members to the Superior Council of Magistracy, President Maia Sandu convoked the Supreme Security Council to discuss the deadlock reached in the reformations of the justice sector and methods of breaking it. The Security Council’s decisions do not leave room for doubts about the level of intransigence reached by the government after months of hesitancies in the reformation process. Exceptional measures were adopted this time, starting with the general conclusion about the justice captured by the personal interest of some of the judges who left criminals on the outside and allowed the Laundromat and the million theft to remain unpunished or intervened in politics by invalidating elections.
An exceptional state in the justice sector was actually declared by accelerating the process of constituting the SCM, within 30 days, so that the reform in this sector could be done. Parliament is to adopt the legal framework for the creation of the Anticorruption Court that is to become functional within three months and that is to examine the cases of grand corruption and the cases of corruption in the justice system. The Ministry of Justice, the National Institute of Justice and the new SCM will work together to improve the situation in the justice sector by training and brining young judges to the system. The head of state left the decision whether to remain part of an unreformed justice sector or to be part of the reform solution to the discretion of any of the current judges.
By instituting the Anticorruption Court, the pro-European government brings to an end the period of torpor in the reform process. The period during which the judges in conflict with the law enjoyed immunity and made apparently legal attempts to sabotage the reform is also brought to an end. The Supreme Security Council’s quick reaction to the justice sector reform syncope caused by the last General Assembly of Judges inspires optimism about the government’s determination to root out corruption in the justice system and the prosecution service by exceptional methods. But the new stage in the process of reforming the Moldovan justice sector brings challenges as well. It is important that the exceptional methods used in the reform process effectively separate the third power in the state from the political branch, contributing to the definitive freeing of justice from illegal political influence. Only such a reform will lead to the fulfillment by the Moldovan state of the European Commission’s conditions referring to the justice sector reform, opening the doors of negotiations on the Republic of Moldova’s accession to the European Union.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.