US Ambassador to Bucharest Hans Klemm spoke during the academic year opening ceremony of the Law School of Bucharest University on Monday, saying that the recent changes brought to the Romanian justice system “are threatening to turn back time to the early 2000s, when Justice was affected by corruption and political influence.”
“Looking to make these changes, the Parliament closed itself off. Claiming that it needed to act quickly and that all the relevant actors were consulted, the Romanian Parliament ignored, among others, the opinions of the Superior Magistrates Council, a petition signed by a majority of magistrates and the written suggestions of experts from the Venice Commission, the European Commission and the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO),” said Klemm.
The ambassador added: “For magistrates who have not been intimidated, the new judicial legislation offers more opportunities for coercion and punishment for magistrates who make waves, through a more powerful Judiciary Inspection and a newly opened bureau created specifically to punish judges and prosecutors.”
He said that the progress made by Romanian justice is threatened by the amendments made to the criminal code and the criminal procedure code adopted by the Parliament this summer, which “seem designed to throw Romania back to the early 2000s.”
“Disguised as concern for a fair trial and human rights, these changes are a clear attempt to protect certain interests from an independent justice system. Passed in their current form, these amendments will make investigating or convicting someone of a crime, from homicide to organized crime, become difficult or even impossible,” Klemm stated.
According to Klemm, this context will lead to international cooperation on justice being “significantly reduced” due to the “concern regarding the sharing of information with Romania.”
However, he added, there are “signs of hope” in Romania’s justice system. Most importantly, Romanian magistrates seem to have reached a level of maturity, confidence and independence that will not allow an easy regression of the system. “Magistrates protested the legislative changes that had an impact on their profession in a manner that would have been unimaginable a decade ago,” Klemm said.
In his view, the justice system, which was “built after big efforts in over two decades” could be “significantly dismantled in less than a year.”
“Will you have the motivation and courage to protect and improve your country’s justice system? It’s not a decision you can take without it costing you your personal lives. It will always be easier to align with those in power than act with integrity and courage,” he told Law students.