The most widely debated topic in Romania these days is, once again, the legislation regulating the judicial sector.
The special parliamentary committee in charge with amending the laws in the judicial sector has drawn up new articles concerning the liability of magistrates. They stipulate, among other things, that judges and prosecutors are subject to civil, disciplinary and criminal liability for possible professional misperformance. However, an amendment introducing pecuniary liability for the damages caused by the magistrates has been dismissed.
The Liberal Deputy Catalin Predoiu, in opposition, explained: “We enter this discussion without preconceptions, and we share the view that there must be proper liability provisions concerning magistrates, just like in all other professions. On the other hand, we are concerned that this instrument may be used as a means to pressure magistrates, and with this in mind we will come up with further proposals. Some of these proposals are of a general nature, they are a matter of principle and should be developed in a separate legislative instrument.”
On behalf of the parliamentary majority, made up of the Social Democratic Party and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, the chair of the Senate’s judiciary committee Robert Cazanciuc denied that some of the more controversial amendments had been dropped as a result of a news release on this topic issued by the US State Department.
Robert Cazanciuc: “We have changed nothing from our original initiative. The talks so far have concerned very technical aspects, as you have noticed, and although some political statements have been made, the arguments put forth concerned concrete aspects, such as how to make sure that the new provisions will be actually implemented by judicial institutions. This was what it was all about, not what the US State Department said.”
The American diplomats had expressed concerns with Parliament preparing legislation that might jeopardise the fight against corruption and weaken the judicial sector’s independence from political pressure. The statement caused irritation in the ruling coalition, and delighted the Opposition. The Justice Minister Tudorel Toader said Parliament cannot be prevented from legislating, while the leaders of the 2 chambers, the Social Democrat Liviu Dragnea and the Liberal Democrat Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, issued a joint news release saying that “the debates, decisions and votes in Parliament are held in the name of the sovereignty of the people and cannot be subject to any form of pressure.”
The president of the National Liberal Party, Ludovic Orban, welcomed the position of the American diplomacy and called on the majority coalition to give up the changes to the laws on the judiciary. In turn, the head of Save Romania Union Dan Barna accused the Social Democratic Party of sacrificing the rule of law in order to protect Dragnea, who has already received a suspended sentence in a criminal case and is probed into in 2 others.
According to commentators, the American reaction comes after the European Commission had also said the global pace of reforms in the Romanian judiciary is slowing down, and the challenges to its independence are a major source of concern.