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Legal changes will make it impossible to protect the victims

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Legal changes will make it impossible to protect the victims

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An overwhelming majority of judges and prosecutors reject the ongoing reform of the justice system in Romania. They include Lucia Zaharia, a member of the Romanian Judges Forum. Euronews reporter Hans von der Brelie met her at a trendy Bucharest restaurant where artists exhibit paintings depicting the golden dream of a better future, of a country bathed in sunshine and happiness…It’s quite a harsh contrast with today’s reality and the tough political and juridical infighting going on in Romania. The changes to the judicial laws were adopted in mid-December “without proper consultation”, Zaharia says. The lack of transparency is not her only point of criticism.

Point of view

Personally I feel vulnerable.

Lucia Zaharia Romanian Judges Forum

No proper consultation

Lucia Zaharia:
These amendments regarding the judiciary were adopted without a proper consultation of the judicial body. The international organisations recommended (that they) consult the concerned parties and the relevant authorities. In our case, this consultation was not made, and advice or notices issued by the Superior Council of Magistatres were ignored.

Euronews:
Do you feel less independent or even vulnerable?

Lucia Zaharia:
We’re concerned because there are magistrates, judges and prosecutors becoming kind of vulnerable in the face of political or other influences. These amendments to the judicial laws introduce a kind of (personal) liability for judges and prosecutors that goes too far. So judges or prosecutors can be (personally) liable for any judicial error that affects the parties during a trial.

I feel vulnerable

Euronews:
What is the meaning and the impact of this concept of personal liability?

Lucia Zaharia:
These kind of changes in the judicial laws make judges or prosecutors very vulnerable. Why? Because if you have as a party the state or a state body, or a representative of a state body, and they feel their interests are not protected, they can make a complaint against the judge or the prosecutor. And if the judicial inspectorate considers that they (judges or prosecutors) are guilty of misconduct, they can be sanctioned. The sanction can go as far as dismissal from the office. So, in this case you judge very carefully if you give a decision against the state or its representatives. Personally, I feel vulnerable and I think any judge or prosecutor will feel the same. You cannot be sure, in your life’s career, that you will never ever commit an error, it’s impossible not to… we’re humans! Well, this error could cost you your career.

(A few days after conducting this interview, the Constitutional Court of Romania declared this amendment on the personal liability of judges and prosecutors unconstitutional. Lawmakers of the ruling coalition government now have to reformulate this part of the controversial law.)

Euronews:
There is more upcoming: The government wants to change the Criminal Procedure Code as well. What is the impact of this?

Lucia Zaharia:
The amendments of the Criminal Procedure Code and of the Criminal Code will unbalance the criminal pursuit and trial almost in favour of the defendant, failing to protect the victims, especially the vulnerable ones, and make it almost impossible for the prosecutors and the police officers to discover and investigate some serious offences. For instance, one amendment says that prosecutors have to alert a suspect about filing a complaint, as soon as the complaint is filed. The defendant has the right to participate in any hearing conducted by a prosecutor. The result will be that the victim will no longer wish to come forward and alert the police or the prosecutor about an offence. Witnesses will no longer want to make statements because they could be under pressure. Imagine when a victim of a sex offence is meeting with the perpetrator, what are the consequences, psychologically? Another change made by these amendments regarding the gathering of evidence: If you want to conduct a search, the prosecutor is obliged to notify the suspect about it.

Euronews.
Are you saying that it will become more difficult for you and your colleagues to do your job?

Lucia Zaharia:
Yes, they will be hindered in their jobs, in conducting proper investigations. – Another example is the search warrant. The members of the judicial body are forced to indicate the specific person and object that is sought. It’s impossible. No criminal judiciary in the world is able to indicate such details in a search warrant because you can’t know. You have some indications, tips (you got) during the criminal investigation… and you want to find more evidence about an offence. So you cannot indicate to such a specific degree the person or the object you’re seeking. This means, this kind of (randomly found) evidence will become useless. – Another change refers to data, information you find during a search in the course of an investigation. During an investigation you can find data, information about other offences, but the Criminal Procedure Code forbids the use of these data because they’re not related to the case you’re investigating. So what will you do with these data and informations? At the end of the trial you must destroy or erase them!

Euronews:
Can you explain, please?

Lucia Zaharia:
If you find, during the course of a specific criminal investigation, some other information, for instance about human trafficking or drug trafficking, you can’t use this information because it’s not related to the specific crime you’ve started investigating specifically. It’s narrowing the means and tools for prosecutors and police. (As a result,) the suspects or the perpetrators can escape.

Euronews:
There is also a hot debate about pre-trial detention: Good or bad? What is your position on that?

Lucia Zaharia:
According to the changes made in the Criminal Procedure Code, it will no longer be possible to order pre-trial arrest in cases such as tax evasion, human trafficking and other offences related to corruption and other serious offences, that in the former Criminal Procedure Code could be placed under such a preventive measure.

Euronews:
Is there a danger that common EU values, such as judicial independence, are put at risk in Romania?

Lucia Zaharia:
For certain there is a danger, because if these changes are adopted, the public ministry, the prosecutor and the police officer could no longer punish certain unlawful acts, could not investigate in a complete, proper and efficient way. These changes will make it impossible to protect the victims, will make it impossible to prove some serious offences, and I think this will have a full impact on our society in general.