Romania’s justice system is not meeting EU standards – and we’re all to blame!

The newer member states of the European Union have been urged by the international community from the beginning to meet EU standards in terms of their justice systems.  In the case of Romania, the country has been praised for its anti-corruption crackdown. But how does the international community assess ‘success’ in this field? 

Very often it seems we are focussing on the sheer numbers of cases going through the system and we are not paying enough attention to the quality of those systems and institutions.  Surely the standards reached by those investigating, prosecuting, judging and imprisoning are more important indicators of democracy than simply pushing through high volumes of cases?

There is compelling evidence that Romania's Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) is abusing its power and engaging in methods that the country's European and US partners should be condemning.  Most recently, tapes were broadcast on Romanian television that revealed how two Romanian prosecutors created false evidence and how they instructed witnesses to produce falsified evidence.  The tapes also included the prosecutors stating that these actions had been sanctioned by Laura Kovesi, the head of the DNA. They referred to this sanctioning as a "green light".  The two prosecutors accused in the evidence revealed on television had been praised in the past by Ms Kovesi for their "performance and activity".

The DNA has been praised for their spectacularly high conviction rate of 92%.  But alarm bells start to ring as we take a close look at how exactly this ‘success rate’ is achieved. Their high-profile cases regularly demonstrate procedural violations.  When suspects are found guilty, reviews of their cases show the verdict was obtained with uncorroborated evidence of witnesses who gave their testimony in return for immunity. 

There is also a worrying trend towards family members being pressured to force suspects to cooperate.  Pre-trial detention is used far more than should be acceptable in an EU country and suspects are paraded in front of the media, with dramatic, televised arrests, presumably to inflict reputational damage. We also see leaked transcripts that jeopardise the suspect’s chance of a fair trial. US Ambassador Hans Klemm continues to stand by the DNA’s head, Laura Kovesi, presumably because Romania’s military cooperation with the USA justifies a blind eye from the embassy’s point of view.

Concerns do not end with the DNA.  It would appear that the judiciary is under pressure and cannot act independently.  Judges who have dared to rule against the DNA in a case can find themselves under investigation as retribution, as was seen in the cases against Risantea Gagescu and Damian Dolache.

The relationship between the secret services (SRI) and the DNA is also troubling and does not fit with European norms.  The relationship is close to say the least, and the DNA has even acknowledged that the SRI plays a role in selecting or initiating cases.

Another disturbing relationship is that between the SRI intelligence agency and the judiciary.  In 2015, an SRI leader described the courts as a “tactical field” of operations, more than hinting that his organization influences the outcome of court cases, which for many was evidence backing up existing suspicions that the intelligence agency still places their agents undercover as judges or pressures them.  

Perhaps the most alarming area is that of Romania’s prison conditions, which have been condemned by European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Romanian Ombudsman’s office, the Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania – the Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH), and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).  Conditions are thought to be so dire that the UK and Germany have refused to surrender people subject to a European Arrest Warrant from Romania because of the country’s poor detention conditions. Former UK MEP Nikki Sinclaire, who sat on both the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Committee On Women’s Rights And Gender Equality in the European parliament, has spoken about Romanian prison conditions, claiming they are a “cause for real concern”.  From her point of view, improving the situation should be a condition of Romania assuming the EU presidency.

When countries are in transition, the signals sent by the international community are very important.  For Romania, a clear priority should be the standards required in investigation, prosecution, judiciary and the nation’s prisons.  They are falling short in all of those areas and we are giving them zero incentive to change. We also risk encouraging other countries to follow their lead in using an “anti-corruption” campaign to justify human rights infractions.

Read also: Justice Romanian Style

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor and Brussels correspondent of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

In October 2021 POLITICO described Gary as "the busiest man in Brussels!"

He is a of member the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK, and the oldest in the world having been founded in October 1884

Gary's most recent book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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